U.S. Supreme Court grants stay of execution to Georgia killer

Georgia death row inmate Keith Tharpe

Georgia death row inmate Keith Tharpe

10:31 p.m.: The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution tonight to condemned killer Keith Tharpe, three and a half hours after he was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection.

In a 6-3 decision, the court’s justices were apparently concerned about claims that one of Tharpe’s jurors was racist and sentenced Tharpe to death because he was African-American.

Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — dissented.

The high court will now decide whether to hear Tharpe’s appeal, and, if it doesn’t, the court said the stay of execution shall terminate automatically. But that will not happen tonight.

Tharpe’s lawyers were overjoyed with the decision. “We’re gratified the court understands this case merits thoughtful consideration outside the press of an execution warrant,” said Brian Kammer, one of Tharpe’s attorneys.

“We are extremely thankful that the court has seen fit to consider Mr. Tharpe's claim of juror racial bias in regular order."

7:05 p.m.: Condemned killer Keith Tharpe continues to wait on word of whether he will die tonight as the appointed hour of his execution passed.

His lethal injection was scheduled for 7 p.m., but Georgia officials traditionally do not proceed with an execution at the appointed hour if there are appeals pending.

5:00 p.m.: The Georgia Supreme Court denies condemned killer Keith Tharpe's request for a stay of execution, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether he is put to death by lethal injection tonight.

Tharpe’s lawyers are now appealing both state and federal court rulings that rejected arguments that a racist juror voted for the death sentence because Tharpe is African-American, and that Tharpe is ineligible for execution because he is intellectually disabled.

In a 6-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear Tharpe’s appeal, explaining that other courts had already ruled against him on these issues and that his new claims are barred on procedural grounds.

The decision noted that Justices Harold Melton, Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham dissented to the court’s denial of a stay of execution.

12:45 p.m.: The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency for convicted killer Keith Tharpe.

Tharpe still has several court appeals pending that could delay his execution.

His lawyers are arguing one of the jurors who convicted him and sentenced him to die was a racist. They also maintain that he is not eligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled.

At the parole board on Monday, 20 supporters — including a daughter and a granddaughter — had argued for mercy.

Tharpe is scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing his 29-year-old sister-in-law, Jaquelyn Freeman on Sept. 25, 1990, dragging her from a car and shooting her multiple times with a shotgun.

Learn why Tharpe's supporters argue he shouldn't be executed by reading the full story at AJC.com.

and learn what happens in the hours leading to the scheduled execution.