SCOTUS Sides With Inmate Over Juror's Use of N-Word

Supreme Court sends Keith Sharpe's case back to lower courts over juror's racist comments
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2018 1:11 PM CST
Juror's Racist Comments May Save Death-Row Inmate
The Supreme Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court gave a death-row inmate a potentially life-saving reprieve on Monday because of racist comments made by one of his jurors. Keith Tharpe has been sentenced to death in Georgia for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, but the court ordered a new look at his request for an appeal of that 1991 death sentence, reports USA Today. It's all because his lawyers obtained a signed affidavit years after the case from one of his jurors in which the man complains about "n------" and adds that after “studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.” Tharpe is black, and the Supreme Court declared in a 6-3 opinion that juror Barney Gattie's views may have tainted his ability to deliver a fair verdict.

"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 decision states. The court's lone African-American, Clarence Thomas, wrote the dissenting opinion, which was signed 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, per SCOTUSblog. "But the court's decision is no profile in moral courage." He added that the decision "callously delays justice for Jaquelin Freeman, the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago." The case now moves back to the federal appeals court in Atlanta. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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