Clemency appeal: 'Blatantly racist' juror helped convict Keith Tharpe

A "profoundly racist" juror who "wondered if black people even have souls" helped convict Keith Tharpe, who faces execution Tuesday, his lawyers argue.

That's part of the clemency application submitted to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

On Monday, the board is scheduled to consider whether to grant clemency for Tharpe. His lawyers are asking the board to commute his sentence to life without parole.

Tharpe, now 59, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the malice murder of Jacquelin Freeman and the kidnapping of his estranged wife.

His lawyers make several arguments on his behalf, stating that Tharpe suffered from crack addiction at the time of the killing, that he's sought redemption through faith while in prison and that some members of the victims' familyh support clemency.

Their application also recounts statements by Barnie Gattie, a member of the jury that convicted Tharpe.

The document describes Gattie's "free and unabashed use of the racial slur 'n-----' to describe Mr. Tharpe and his admission that he voted to impose the death penalty because Mr. Tharpe was a n-----..."

In 1998, Tharpe's legal team interviewed Gattie, who signed a sworn statement confirming his comments.

In that statement, he describes the victims and their family as "good black folks."

"If they had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life and death wouldn't have mattered so much. My feeling is, what would be the difference," Gattie said, according to his statement.

He continued, "After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls. Integration started in Genesis. I think they are wrong."

Gattie's statements don't change the facts of Tharpe's guilt, his lawyers argue, but they show that he did not get a "fair and impartial" jury to consider his sentence.

During the interview, Gattie used the same racial epithet to describe other people and said members of one victim's family thanked him "for sending that n----- to the chair."

His lawyers write, "That a man who brashly used the term 'n-----' to describe Mr. Tharpe and other African American was permitted to live or die raises serious questions as to the fairness of the proceeding..."

Previous Georgia court rulings held that jurors' statements after a trial can't be considered in appeals, Tharpe's lawyers say.

But in March, the U.S. Supreme Court said state and local courts should consider statements of "overt racial bias."

The state board is scheduled to vote Monday morning in Atlanta on whether to commute Tharpe's death sentence. His execution is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state's Death Row in Jackson.

 

 

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