Published: Wed, January 10, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Supreme Court sends death-row case back to lower courts

Supreme Court sends death-row case back to lower courts

Tharpe argued that attitude affected the Georgia jury's death sentence decision for his convictions of kidnapping and raping his estranged wife and murdering her sister almost three decades ago. Among them: Gattie said that from reading his Bible, he "wondered if black people even have souls".

By a 6-3 vote, the court questioned a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit not to consider Tharpe's latest appeal involving claims of racial bias on the part of the juror.

"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 majority wrote.

Moody, who at 82 is the oldest inmate on Alabama Death Row, was seeking to appeal an USA 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in March 2017.

Additionally, the affidavit states that Gattie knew Jaquelin Freeman, Tharpe's sister-in-law, and saw her and her family as "what he would call a nice black family", according to the opinion, Tharpe v. Sellers (PDF).

The high court's three-page January 8 opinion acknowledges that even though the state court's conclusion - that the juror's vote to impose the death penalty was not based on race was binding - the affidavit from the juror could not just be dismissed. "At the very least", the court reasoned, "jurists of reason could debate whether Tharpe has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the state court's factual determination was wrong".

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Tharpe petitioned to reopen his habeas petition last June, citing new Supreme Court opinions regarding grants for certificate of appealability claims based on extraordinary circumstances. Armed with a shotgun, he ordered them out of their vehicle and fatally shot Freeman during an argument over whether his estranged wife would go with him, his lawyers have said. He said "there are two types of black people: 1".

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

A lower court had ruled that the jury's decision wasn't tainted by Mr. Gattie's views, but the justices said it was possible. A Jones County jury convicted Tharpe and sentenced him to die for Freeman's murder during a trial held just three months after the crimes. "The court's decision is no profile in moral courage", Thomas wrote.

The court's only black judge, Clarence Thomas, disagreed with Monday's ruling, arguing in a 13-page dissent that by delaying the execution judges were engaging in "ceremonial handwringing".

Georgia courts would not consider any evidence of potential racial bias and a U.S. District Court also refused to consider that evidence.

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