Savage Truth: Condemned killer gets reprieve

Condemned murderer Keith Leroy Tharpe had eaten his last meal, recorded his final statement and declined a sedative Tuesday afternoon in what would've been the final hours of his life.

Tharpe, now 59, had been moved from his usual death-row cell at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson to a holding cell just outside the death chamber itself.

Twenty-three people visited Tharpe in the holding cell throughout the afternoon. According to Department of Corrections (DOC) officials, those visitors included seven attorneys, five friends, eight family members and three members of the clergy.

The Georgia Supreme Court had denied Tharpe's final appeal for clemency and his request had moved to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration.

Outside the prison walls, several people gathered in the protest area either to support the death penalty and Tharpe's execution or to oppose the ultimate punishment.

Inside the prison administration building, five media witnesses sat confined in the media holding area awaiting the high court's decision.  

The witnesses included Deborah Laurie-Smith with The Jones County News, Rhonda Cook with The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Evan Watson with WGXA in Macon, Kate Brumback with the Associated Press, and me with 13 WMAZ.

A Jones County jury sentenced Tharpe to death in 1991 after convicting him of murdering his sister-in-law, Jacquelin Freeman, in September of 1990.

Everything and everybody was in place awaiting the Supreme Court decision. It came at 10:45 p.m.

DOC Commissioner Gregory C. Dozier came to the media holding area. He was  accompanied by the departments general counsel Jennifer Ammons and several other  department officials.

The Supreme Court has stayed the execution, Ammons said. She said the justices want to review a lower court ruling that denied Tharpe's clemency appeal. Ammons didn't have details on what lower court rulings would be reviewed or when the justices would begin the review. 

In their appeal, Tharpe's lawyers underscored statements by Barnie Gattie, a member of the Jones County jury that convicted Tharpe and sentenced him to death. According to the appeal, those statements allege that Gattie, among other things, used the n-word to describe Tharpe and that Gattie supported Tharpe's death sentence because he's black.

Georgia Resource Center attorney Brian Kammer, one of several Tharpe lawyers, said the Supreme Court issued the stay of execution because it wants to review a lower federal appeals court denial of the racial issues presented in the appeal.

It still isn't known when the high court will review the appeal courts ruling. But attorneys say it could happen next month. If the justices lift the stay of execution, attorney say the case will be sent back to Georgia's attorney general who will ask a Jones County Superior Court judge to schedule another execution time frame.

It would also mean Tharpe , who's been on death row 26 years, would once again eat his last meal, record his final statement and receive visitors for the final time. 

 

 

 

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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