JACKSON, Ga. – The U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of execution Tuesday night for a Georgia man whose attorneys argued the 59-year-old black man’s death sentence is tainted by a juror’s racial bias.
Keith Leroy Tharpe, known as “Bo,” was set to be put to death at 7 p.m. at the state prison by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital, but the hour came and went as the justices considered his case. Just before 11 p.m., the court announced the temporary stay.
Tharpe was convicted of murder and two counts of kidnapping in the September 1990 slaying of Jaquelyn Freeman. Freeman was traveling to work with Tharpe’s estranged wife when Tharpe blocked their vehicle with a borrowed truck, ordered them out and fatally shot Freeman.
After Tharpe’s trial, juror Barney Gattie showed that he “harbored very atrocious, racist views about black people,” according to Thorpe’s legal team.
According to his affidavit, Gattie said, “In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. “N****rs.”
Gattie went on to say in his affidavit, “I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did. After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls,” Gattie said.
Gattie later said in a deposition that he did not intend to use the n-word as a racial slur, according to court documents.
Tharpe’s lawyers argued that a biased juror violated Tharpe’s constitutional rights to a fair trial.
Gattie, before his death, 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.
The Supreme Court of Georgia declined to hear Tharpe’s claims on Tuesday, prompting his appeal to the US Supreme Court.
The justices granted the stay while they consider whether to take up his appeal. If the justices decide not to hear the case the stay will be lifted. Conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented, saying they would not have granted the stay.
“I’m glad they’re willing to take the time to consider these serious issues in Mr. Tharpe’s case,” said Tharpe attorney Brian Kammer.