The Supreme Court agreed that at least one of the jurors who convicted a Georgia man of murder was a virulent racist. They previously came to the conclusion that racism may have affected a juror’s decision. But in a unanimous no-decision, the Supreme Court declined to take up the prisoner’s death penalty appeal, effectively sending him to his death.
After a 1991 murder conviction, Keith Tharpe was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Sept. 26, 2017. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court demanded that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals re-examine Tharpe’s case, citing the court’s error in discounting the racial bias of one of the jurors—namely, Barney Gattie.
As The Root reported in 2017:
In Georgia, jurors must unanimously decide on the death penalty for it to take effect, which happened after Tharpe’s 1991 murder conviction. Seven years after the conviction, attorneys trying to appeal Tharpe’s case interviewed Gattie and found him to be a racist whose virulent hate would go unmatched until a man with skin the color and consistency of Goldfish crackers took up residence in the White House.
When they interviewed Gattie, according to Time magazine, he proudly proclaimed, among other things:
- There is a difference between “good black folks” like the victims Tharpe murdered and “niggers.”
- He owned a store and routinely kicked “niggers” out of it.
- He voted for the death penalty because he thinks Tharpe is a “nigger.”
- If Nicole Brown Simpson hadn’t married a “nigger” (O.J. Simpson), she would still be alive.
- He often “wondered if black people even have souls.”
- Some of the jurors wanted Tharpe to serve as “an example for other blacks who kill blacks.”
Still, after this information was provided in Tharpe’s appeal, the 11th Circuit Court said that Gattie’s racial animus wasn’t enough to prove that he was biased in his vote to convict. But on the day of his scheduled execution, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the 11th Circuit.
On Monday, the justices freed Georgia to set an execution date, explaining that Tharpe had not met the procedural burdens necessary to reopen his case. Writing separately, Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the decision because Tharpe’s representation had not raised the question of racial bias in a timely fashion, CNN reports.
To be clear, the judges do not dispute that a juror had racial bias. They do not dispute that racism may have caused the juror to sentence Tharpe to death. Their only conclusion is: “Yeah ... but he did it wrong.”
It should be noted that Keith Tharpe has a reported IQ of 74, making him unable to understand the charges, according to many experts. But that does not matter, according to the Supreme Court. Tharpe waited too long.
Unlike the appeals process, apparently racism has no expiration date.