On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-to-3 opinion that Keith Leroy Tharpe, a black inmate currently on death row in Georgia, will be allowed to challenge his death sentence because of the role racial bias played in his trial.
Tharpe was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his sister-in-law, Jaquelin Freeman, while in the act of kidnapping and raping his estranged wife. Seven years after the conviction, Barney Gattie, one of the jurors in Tharpe’s case, told one of Tharpe’s attorneys in a signed statement that “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers” and that after “studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.”
In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court found that “Gattie’s remarkable affidavit—which he never retracted—presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict. At the very least, jurists of reason could debate whether Tharpe has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the state court’s factual determination was wrong.” Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch were the dissenting justices.
As Michael Harriot previously reported at The Root, not only did Tharpe face a racist jury, he also could not afford good legal representation and is intellectually challenged. Racial bias has always plagued our country’s criminal justice system and the death penalty is no outlier—but the fact that Tharpe has been granted another chance to appeal his death sentence certainly is.