African American death row inmate who argued he was falsely convicted by a racist juror who questioned if ‘black people have souls’ has died behind bars
- Keith ‘Bo’ Tharpe, 61, died of natural causes Friday, Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath confirmed in an email Sunday
- In 1991, a jury convicted Tharpe of murder in the September 1990 slaying of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman, and sentenced him to death
- In interviews with Tharpe’s legal team years later, white juror Barney Gattie, who has since died, freely used the N-word and made other racist statements
- Tharpe had been scheduled to be executed at 7pm on September 26, 2017, but the appointed time came and went with legal challenges still pending
- Courts rejected various appeal requests on procedural grounds but March 2019 a judge said she was ‘profoundly troubled by the underlying facts of this case’
Keith ‘Bo’ Tharpe, 61, died of natural causes Friday, Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath confirmed in an email Sunday
A Georgia death row inmate whose planned execution was halted in September 2017 by the U.S. Supreme Court after his lawyers argued his death sentence was tainted by a juror’s racial bias has died, according to the state Department of Corrections
Keith ‘Bo’ Tharpe, 61, died of natural causes, most likely due to complications of cancer, at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Butts County Friday.
In 1991, a jury convicted Tharpe of murder in the September 1990 slaying of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman, and sentenced him to death.
In interviews with Tharpe’s legal team years later, white juror Barney Gattie, who has since died, freely used the N-word.
‘In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. (N-words),’ Gattie said, according to a sworn statement he signed in 1998.
Gattie said during jury selection that he had no connections to the Freeman family. However in the affidavit he said he did know them.
‘Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the “good” black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair,’ Gattie said.
Georgia now carries out executions via lethal injection.
He went on to say: ‘After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.’
He added: ‘If they had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life and death for Tharpe wouldn’t have mattered so much. My feeling is, what would be the difference?’
His death at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Butts County (pictured) was most likely due to complications of cancer
Court documents state that Gattie later clarified in a deposition that he didn’t mean to use the N-word as a slur.
Gattie later said he had been drinking when he talked to Tharpe’s legal team and didn’t understand what his statement would be used for.
He also said his comments had been ‘taken all out of proportion’ and ‘misconstrued’.
He testified that he voted for the death penalty because of the facts of the case, not because of Tharpe’s race.
Tharpe was represented by the Georgia Resource Center, a nonprofit organization, which offers free legal representation to prisoners on death row.
His attorney Brian Kammer said that the juror ‘harbored very atrocious, racist views about black people’.
Kammer said that in an attempt to do ‘damage control’, the state made Gattie sign a different affidavit.
Tharpe’s last years were spent ‘strengthening his bonds with family and friends, according to a statement from his lawyer. He is pictured with his granddaughter
Tharpe had been scheduled to be executed at 7pm on September 26, 2017, but the appointed time came and went with legal challenges still pending.
He had already eaten his last meal of three spicy chicken breasts, a roast beef sandwich with sauce, a fish sandwich, tater logs, onion rings, an apple pie and a vanilla milkshake.
More than three hours later, just after 10.30pm that night, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a temporary stay.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, previously said: ‘A juror who doubts whether black people have souls cannot make a reasoned, moral judgment about whether a black defendant such as Mr. Tharpe should face the ultimate sanction.’
In 1991, a jury convicted Tharpe of murder in the September 1990 slaying of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman, and sentenced him to death
The state of Georgia said the juror racial bias claim was barred by evidence rules and there was insufficient evidence to show that juror bias affected the trial’s outcome.
The Georgia Supreme Court refused to stop the execution.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued the temporary stay based on a separate motion that Tharpe’s attorneys had filed in federal court in June 2017 seeking to reopen his case based on the allegations of juror racial bias. A federal judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied that motion.
But they admitted in a 6-3 decision that they were concerned Gattie was racist and that he only voted for the death penalty because Tharpe was black.
In a clemency application, Tharpe’s lawyers described a tough childhood and an extensive history of substance abuse they said included getting black-out drunk by age 10 and a debilitating crack cocaine habit.
They said Tharpe felet deep remorse over Freeman’s killing and had kicked his addictions during his time in prison, devoted his life to God and sought to help improve the lives of others.
Tharpe had been scheduled to be executed at 7pm on September 26, 2017, but the appointed time came and went with legal challenges still pending
A few months later in January 2018, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta – which had already rejected Tharpe’s appeal – for further consideration. The 11th Circuit in April 2018 again rejected Tharpe’s appeal, and he appealed to the Supreme Court again.
The high court last March declined to consider the appeal. When that denial was issued, Justice Sonia Sotomayor included a statement saying she agreed that it was appropriate for the court to decline to hear the appeal but that she was ‘profoundly troubled by the underlying facts of this case.’
No court has ever considered the merits of Tharpe’s juror racial bias claim, Sotomayor wrote. State and federal courts have rejected his requests on procedural grounds.
Tharpe’s petition to the Supreme Court asked the high court to decide whether the 11th Circuit had made the wrong call on procedural rulings, not whether his claim of juror racial bias has merit, Sotomayor wrote. For that reason, she wrote, the decision to reject his appeal was the right one.
But Sotomayor called the evidence of juror bias presented by Tharpe’s lawyers ‘truly striking.’
‘These racist sentiments, expressed by a juror entrusted with a vote over Tharpe’s fate, suggest an appalling risk that racial bias swayed Tharpe’s sentencing,’ she wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said last March: ‘These racist sentiments, expressed by a juror entrusted with a vote over Tharpe’s fate, suggest an appalling risk that racial bias swayed Tharpe’s sentencing’
Tharpe’s wife left him in August 1990, taking their four daughters to live with her mother.
About a month later, on September 25, 1990, Tharpe’s wife was driving to work with her brother’s wife when Tharpe used a truck to block them.
CALORIES IN THARPE’S LAST MEAL:
Three spicy chicken breasts: 1,260 calories
Roast beef sandwich: 341 calories
Fish sandwich: 325 calories
Tater logs (10 pieces): 275 calories
Onion rings (100g): 411 calories
Apple pie (1 slice): 296 calories
Vanilla milkshake (11 ounce): 350 calories
Total estimated calories: 3,258
Daily recommended intake: 2,500
Armed with a shotgun, he ordered them out of their vehicle and fatally shot Freeman. He threw her in a ditch and shot her again.
Prosecutors said he then raped his wife and took her to a credit union to withdraw money. While at the credit union, his wife called police for help.
About three months after the killing, Tharpe was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath confirmed Tharpe’s death in an email Sunday.
One of Tharpe’s lawyers, Marcia Widder, said in an emailed statement after his death: ‘The courts’ failure to confront the racism tainting Mr. Tharpe’s death sentence remains a stain on the judicial system and calls for increased efforts to eradicate the poison of racism in our criminal courts.’
Widder said in a statement that Tharpe’s last years were spent ‘strengthening his bonds with family and friends, and deepening his Christian faith’.
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