Until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in late last night, the state of Georgia was prepared to execute a black man with an IQ of 74, even though one of the jurors who sentenced him called him a “n-----” and questioned whether blacks have souls.
Keith Tharpe fatally shot his sister-in-law in 1990. In an affidavit that he confirmed in 1998, juror Barney Gattie said he considered there to be “good black folks” and “n------” and that he considered Tharpe the second. He added that from reading his Bible, he “wondered if black people even have souls” and made other racist comments. He later said the affidavit “misconstrued” his comments.
Tharpe’s execution is now on hold while the high court decides whether to hear Tharpe’s appeal. If it doesn’t, or if the justices ultimately rule against Tharpe, he will be executed despite the juror’s indisputable racial bias.
Besides being patently unfair to Tharpe, the case is yet more proof of how flawed the administration of the death penalty is in the United States. Study after study has shown that, whatever you think of its morality, capital punishment is plagued with multiple biases. Whether a person gets death or life in prison hinges as much on his income, race and the race of the victim as it does the severity or other circumstances of the crime.
Tharpe’s case also might help illustrate why so many African-Americans, including protesting NFL players, believe the scales of justice are tilted against them. In America, apparently, a man can be executed despite overwhelming evidence of racial bias at trial.
Tharpe deserves life in prison for his atrocious crime. The Supreme Court, following its own guidance from a Colorado case in March, should keep him there.