By Ben Kane (Political Correspondent)
Just hours before execution, Georgia death row inmate Keith Tharpe was saved. Now, attorneys and the Constitution will decide his fate.
Tharpe, an African-American, was sentenced to be executed for the murder of his sister-in-law last Tuesday. However, he was granted a stay of execution just hours before the execution by the Supreme Court of the United States. Defense attorneys had filed for a stay of execution based on claims of racial bias, stemming off an affidavit where a juror in the case said racist statements about African-Americans. The juror also claimed in the affidavit that he knew the family of the victim, although he said the contrary during potential juror interviews.
The state of Georgia denied that there was any sign of juror racial bias. “There was no evidence in any of the other juror affidavits or depositions that racial bias was a part of the deliberations,” the Georgia attorney general’s office wrote.
The juror, Barney Gattie (who is now deceased), said while being interviewed by Tharpe’s legal team years after the trial, “After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.” The juror also used racial slurs freely during his interview. The juror signed a statement that says he had said all of those things.
Gattie said that there are two types of black people: the “good black folks” and the “n****rs”. “I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did.” Georgia has been using lethal injections as their method of execution since 2001.
After being confronted by Tharpe’s attorneys, Gattie said that his decision for execution was based solely on the evidence against Tharpe, not his racial bias. Gattie later claimed that he was drunk during the interview but never denied saying or meaning any of what he said.
The Georgia Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution in June, but it was granted by the United States Supreme Court due to a motion that claimed the same racial bias.
Tharpe’s attorney, Brian Kammer, said that the interview revealed a lot about how the juror was going to act. “He basically admitted his criteria for deciding to sentence Mr. Tharpe to death had much more to do with his race than any of the facts of the crime,” Kammer said.
Gattie also claimed during the interview process while selecting a jury that he did not know the family of the victim, yet said in the affidavit that he did know the family. Tharpe’s attorneys argue that this is a violation of the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which promises an impartial trial. As well, Tharpe’s IQ of 70 falls under the federal law that doesn’t allow executions of those with intellectual disabilities.
Tharpe’s attorneys have never said that their client was innocent. Instead, they are saying that Tharpe doesn’t deserve the death penalty due to the potential breaches of the Sixth Amendment.
Tharpe’s warrant of execution expired Tuesday, October 4th at noon. The case is on the docket for a Supreme Court conference calendar, a time where the justices decide which cases they will hear and which they will throw out. If Tharpe’s case is thrown out, the stay of execution is removed and the state can pursue another execution warrant. However, if it is taken in, the execution remains on hold until a further ruling.
Ms. Stevens, a Social Studies teacher at Sharon High School, questions the results due to Gattie’s bias, but thinks that the death penalty may still be an option due to the crime. “What’s interesting is that he doesn’t deny committing the crime, and the heinousness of the crime has gotten in the way of the justice of the situation.”
“It’s easy to point to this case as a miscarriage of justice.”