The Supreme Court gave a death row prisoner in Georgia hope for a different fate Monday because of a juror’s racist comments.
The court ruled 6-3 that convicted murderer Keith Tharpe deserved another chance in federal court to prove that his death sentence was tainted by the white juror’s reference to Tharpe as a “n—–” and other racist remarks.
“I have wondered if black people even have souls,” juror Barney Gattie said in a sworn affidavit.
The high court’s liberals were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy in the unsigned opinion, which orders the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to take the remarks into consideration in deciding Tharpe’s fate.
“Gattie’s remarkable affidavit — which he never retracted — presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict,” the court ruled.
Tharpe was convicted of murdering Jaquelin Freeman, a black woman, 27 years ago.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 13-page dissent to the three-page ruling, calling the delay in Tharpe’s execution “ceremonial handwringing” and “a useless do-over.” He was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
“The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit, and must want to do something about it,” Thomas wrote. “But the court’s decision is no profile in moral courage.”
While retaining the death penalty in general, the justices have been sensitive in recent years to charges of racism in its application. Last year, they blocked the execution of a Texas murderer because of racially discriminatory testimony presented by his own defense team.
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered that 6-2 ruling in favor of Duane Buck, who murdered his former girlfriend in 1996. He was sentenced to death following the testimony of a defense witness who said he would be more dangerous in the future because he is black.