Published: Wed, January 10, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

SCOTUS Grants Reprieve in Racial Death Penalty Case

SCOTUS Grants Reprieve in Racial Death Penalty Case

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented, saying the court's opinion will not only delay the execution, but it will delay justice for the victim's family. "But on the unusual facts of this case, the Court of Appeals' review should not have rested on the ground that it is indisputable among reasonable jurists that Gattie's service on the jury did not prejudice Tharpe", the majority writes. Black folks and 2. He was quickly sentenced to death by a unanimous jury.

Thomas said the court was swayed by the "odious" remarks in Gattie's statement, but should have focused on procedural problems with Tharpe's case and the lower court's determination that Tharpe's death sentence did not depend upon racist considerations by the jury. In an unsigned opinion that runs just over two pages, the court acknowledged today that the state court's conclusion - that the juror's "vote to impose the death penalty was not based on Tharpe's race" - was "binding on federal courts, including this Court, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary". 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.

Thomas said the court's handling of the case "callously delays justice" for Freeman, "the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago". "The (U.S. Court of Appeals for the) Eleventh Circuit erred when it concluded otherwise".

Tharpe was convicted of murdering his sister-in-law after his wife left him. "If they had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life and death for Tharpe wouldn't have mattered so much".

Tharpe's lawyers subsequently litigated the racial bias issue in state court, but a judge ruled against them.

But, the court continued, the affidavit (which the court described as "remarkable") nonetheless "presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected" the juror's vote for the death penalty.

Lower courts turned down Tharpe's appeals based on Gattie's statement, which he said had been taken after a long day of drinking.

Thomas wrote that his colleagues "must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit, and must want to do something about it. But the court's decision is no profile in courage".

Georgia courts would not consider any evidence of potential racial bias and a U.S. District Court also refused to consider that evidence. "The attention to racial discrimination is long overdue because it has always been a factor in many criminal cases and particularly in death penalty cases", he said.

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