Racial bias is a problem that has embedded itself deep into the fabric of our American society. So, it is no surprise that it rears its ugly head deep in the hallowed halls of justice.
Our United States Supreme Court recently put an execution on hold because the criminal conviction of the accused was tainted by racial bias from at least one of the jurors. Our Supreme Court granted death row inmate, Keith Tharpe, a new trial.
The Supreme Court’s decision was brief and unsigned. Regardless, there was dissent by three judges: Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Their dissenting opinions were surprisingly more lengthy and accused the Supreme Court of its ceremonial hand-wringing.
This judgement stems from the stay of execution request made by Tharpe’s lawyers in November 2017, just 72 hours before he was scheduled to be executed. The state, in opposing the application, stated that the juror’s statement was taken out of proportion as he did not mean the word ni***r as a racial slur.
The Supreme Court granted him a new trial, but not all the Judges agreed…
The Georgia state attorney also wrote that during the juror’s deposition, he did not show any signs of racial animus directed at black people. They say he stated that he thought black and white people had the same level of intelligence, and agreed that racial discrimination was a problem, along with a host of other things.
“There was no evidence in any of the other juror affidavits or depositions that racial bias was a part of the deliberations,” the office of Georgia’s Attorney General wrote in a filing.
In addition to this claim of racial bias, Mr. Tharpe’s attorneys argued that he is intellectually disabled and not eligible for execution. That claim was promptly denied.
According to the initial facts of the case, Keith Tharpe killed Jaquelin Freeman, his estranged wife’s sister, in the process of kidnapping, ambushing, and raping his wife. In 1991, a Georgia jury found him guilty and Tharpe was sentenced to death.
Seven years after the conviction, one of the jurors, Barney Gattie, signed an affidavit where he made some startling revelations. He said that he drew a distinction between Mr Tharpe and his victim, both of them being black.
One juror says he classifies black people into two categories, “nice black people” and …
“The Freemans are what I would call a nice black family,” Mr. Gattie wrote. “In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people. 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers.”
“Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did,” Mr. Gattie wrote.
“After studying the Bible,” Gattie added, “I have wondered if black people even have souls.”
Mr Tharpe sought to reopen his case on the ground of the juror’s racial bias that was clear. However the state of Georgia and the lower federal courts ruled against him. Quoting a Supreme Court decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta stated that “Tharpe failed to demonstrate that Barney Gattie’s behavior ‘had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.’ ”
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court called on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to hear Mr. Tharpe’s appeal. The majority opinion wrote “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.”
In a similar case in March of 2017, Pena Rodriguuez vs Colorado, our U. S. Supreme Court stated that courts should take an exception to the secrecy of the jury’s deliberations if any evidence points to racial discrimination in the determination of the accused’s guilt.
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court was that Mr Tharpe faced extra legal hurdles on his road to justice.
Despite this, it said that the appellate court erred when it did not reach the conclusion that there was prejudice in the review of Tharpe’s case. In a dissent reaching thirteen pages, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that although the content of the juror’s affidavit was odious, the majority had ignored important legal issues just to make a statement.
“In bending the rules here to show its concern for a black capital inmate, the court must think it is showing its concern for racial justice,” Justice Thomas wrote. “It is not.”
Justice Thomas further wrote that Tharpe will lose in the long run, given how difficult it is to challenge state capital convictions in Federal Court. Justice Thomas further said that the juror alleged that he had been drinking when he made the affidavit and submitted another one saying that he didn’t convict Mr. Tharpe based
on his race.
“The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in the first affidavit,” Justice Thomas wrote, “and must want to do something about it. But the court’s decision is no profile in moral courage.”
The Court’s decision was was not a “profile in moral courage”
“By remanding this case to the lower court of appeals for a useless do-over, the court is not doing Tharpe any favors,” he added. “And its unusual disposition of his case callously delays justice for Jaquelin Freeman, the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago. Because this court should not be in the business of ceremonial hand-wringing, I respectfully dissent.”
Only a handful of states still execute their convicts. Michigan is not one of those states. In 2017, there were 18 executions in the USA. Georgia seems to like their executions. Although it carried out just one execution in 2017, Georgia executed nine inmates in 2016, the highest number in America for that year.
The problem of discrimination is one that extends far beyond race and even court decisions. People are discriminated against based on their nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, size, religion and so much more.
The Kronzek Firm applauds this decision by our Supreme Court. When it comes to serious sanctions for criminal convictions, and especially capital punishment, we must err on the side of caution.