Juror's racist statements prompt court to allow Keith Leroy Tharpe to appeal his conviction.
The Supreme Court handed a black death row inmate in Georgia the opportunity to challenge his conviction Monday after taking into consideration a white juror's racist statements.
The juror, Barney Gattie, said in a sworn affidavit that “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. [the N-word]”, before indicating that 59-year-old Keith Leroy Tharpe was not in the first category.
Gattie further questioned whether black people have souls in the documents submitted by Tharpe's lawyers.
"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," the court said in its unsigned majority ruling.
In the state of Georgia, the death penalty can only be handed out after a unanimous jury decision.
Tharpe was convicted in the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law, Jaquelin Freeman, also black, as well as two charges of kidnapping related to the fatal confrontation. He was sentenced to death in 1991.
The court stayed Tharpe’s execution last Fall just hours before he was to be put to death in order to give them time to deliberate.
But before Tharpe thought he would be put to death, he made a recorded statement in which he apologized to Freeman's family for her murder.
"You know because, uh, you know, me taking the life of her was very wrong and uh, I sincerely wish y'all would be able to be forgiving one day," he said, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections transcript made public after a request by the Associated Press.
"You know and uh, like I say, I'ma say it again, I'm very sorry. And, uh, and, God bless y'all. That's all I can say."
Writing in a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court paid too much heed to Gattie's "odious" comments and not enough to lower court rulings.
"The Court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit and must want to do something about it. But the Court’s decision is no profile in moral courage," Thomas, the sole black Supreme Court justice, wrote on behalf of himself and Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
"By remanding this case to the Court of Appeals for a useless do-over, the Court is not doing Tharpe any favors," he added.
The court's decision, he said, "callously delays justice for Jaquelin Freeman, the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago."