Lawyers: Death sentence tainted by juror’s racial bias

As Georgia prepares to put to death a man who killed his sister-in-law 27 years ago, his lawyers say the execution should be stopped because his death sentence is tainted by a juror’s racial bias.

Lawyers for the state reject that argument and say Keith Leroy Tharpe, 59, should die as scheduled Tuesday for the September 1990 slaying of Jacquelyn Freeman.

Tharpe’s wife left him on Aug. 28, 1990, and went to live with her mother. Despite an order not to contact her or her family, Tharpe called his wife on Sept. 24, 1990, and told her during an argument that if she wanted to “play dirty,” he would show her what dirty was, a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case says.

His wife was driving to work the next morning with her brother’s wife when Tharpe used a truck to block them. He got out armed with a shotgun and ordered them out of their vehicle, the summary says.

Tharpe took Freeman to the rear of his vehicle, shot her, rolled her into a ditch and then shot her again, killing her.

He then drove away with his wife. When he took her to Macon a while later to have her get money from her credit union, she called the police.

Tharpe went to trial a little more than three months after the killing and was convicted and sentenced to death. Seven years later, lawyers working on Tharpe’s behalf interviewed jurors.

“In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. (N-words),” juror Barney Gattie told them.

He knew the victim’s family and knew them to be “good black folks,” he said, and he felt that Tharpe was not in that category, so he should be executed.

“After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls,” said Gattie, who has since died.

Tharpe’s legal team prepared an affidavit including those statements after interviewing Gattie and he signed it, making a change to one part by hand and initialing that change.

Two days later, lawyers for the state visited Gattie and he signed a new affidavit walking back much of what he’d told Tharpe’s team. He also said he had been drinking before both meetings with Tharpe’s legal team, that they hadn’t told him he was signing an affidavit or what it would be used for and that his statement had been “taken all out of proportion” and “was misconstrued,” according to filings by state attorneys.

Gattie said he didn’t mean the N-word as a racial slur, that he used it to refer to no-good people regardless of their race, the state’s filing says….

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