WASHINGTON-The Supreme Court on Monday ordered lower courts to consider claims by a black convict from Georgia who alleges his death sentence was tainted with racial bias.
The justices voted 6-3 Monday to order the federal appeals court in Atlanta to take up the case of inmate Keith Leroy Tharpe. Gattie freely used racial slurs and said his study of the Bible had led him to question "if black people even have souls", according to court filings.
The appeal stems from interviews Tharpe's legal team conducted in 1998 with Barney Gattie, a white juror.
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But, the court continued, the affidavit (which the court described as "remarkable") nonetheless "presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected" the juror's vote for the death penalty. Tharpe's attorneys looked into having the District Court's ruling reopened and reconsidered, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected it.
Freeman, the murder victim, came from a family of "nice black folks", Gattie said.
Tharpe was tried, convicted and sentenced to death about three months later.
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"At the very least", the court's majority opinion said, "jurists of reason could debate whether Tharpe has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the state court's factual determination was wrong".
Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only African-American member, objected and was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Today the Supreme Court threw Tharpe a lifeline by sending his case back to the lower courts. Reportedly, while Tharpe's wife and sister were in a auto, Tharpe blocked them on the road in the truck he was driving. Gattie signed an affidavit, though he later testified that he voted to sentence Tharpe to death because of the evidence against him. Thomas argued the court should not be in the business of "ceremonial handwringing". He shot and killed Freeman and left her body in a ditch while kidnapping and later raping his estranged wife. Gattie told them in a signed statement that "there are two types of black people: 1".
It also noted Mr. Gattie later issued a second affidavit, and said his previous statements were out of context and carried out after he had been drinking. "The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit and must want to do something about it". And review of the denial of a COA is certainly not limited to grounds expressly addressed by the court whose decision is under review. But in March of a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to a fair trial supersedes such laws when racial animus influenced the verdict or sentence.
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