Keith Tharpe Dies

Posted in Georgia History, Library of Congress, The Death Penalty by chamblee54 on January 27, 2020

Inmate who appealed death sentence over juror’s racist views dies “Keith “Bo” Tharpe … died late Friday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Butts County. His death likely was due to complications from cancer, according to a news release from the Georgia Resource Center, which represented him in recent years as he attempted to appeal his death sentence. He was 61.”

Keith Tharpe was convicted of killing Jaquelin Freeman. There was little doubt of his guilt. A death sentence was handed down, and came close to being carried out. There were complications, and the sentence was postponed.

A few years after the trial, an attorney interviewed one of the jurors, Barnie Gattie. Unfortunate things were allegedly said, including the magic word. A transcript can be found here.

A media outcry ensued. Typical was this headline: The Stench of Prejudice in Keith Tharpe’s Death Sentence. Corporate media does not miss opportunities to say Georgia is racist.

A few things were not mentioned. “Gattie testified … that he had been drinking alcohol on the Saturday he first spoke with representatives from the Georgia Resource Center. When they returned on Memorial Day with the affidavit for him to sign, he had again been drinking. He testified that he had consumed a twelve pack of beer and a few drinks of whiskey before signing the affidavit. Gattie stated he was not told what the affidavit was going to be used for, he did not read the affidavit, and when the affidavit was read to him, he did not pay attention. … In addition to Gattie, the other ten jurors” (“two of whom were black”) “who were deposed testified that Tharpe’s race was not discussed during deliberations, race played no part in their deliberations, no one used racial slurs during deliberations, and racial animus or bias was not a part of the deliberations.”

During the appeals after a death sentence, attorneys try to find any reason they can to stop the execution. This is what happened when that attorney interviewed Bernie Gattie. “Why would the attorney’s continue with the interview if they knew Mr. Gattie was intoxicated? Did the attorneys lead on Mr. Gattie, and put words in his mouth? How was the affadavit presented to Mr. Gattie for his approval? Mr. Gattie later claimed he “… didn’t pay much attention when the affidavit was read to him. … He signed the defense affidavit because he “just wanted to get rid of them.” Were these attorneys looking for the truth, or trying to get a drunken old man to say something inappropriate, so they could get Mr. Tharpe’s sentence commuted?”

The Tharpe/Gattie appeals led chamblee54 to the uncomfortable experience of agreeing with Justice Clarence Thomas. “SCOTUS sent the death penalty case of Keith Tharpe back to the lower courts today. This is the Pontius Pilate approach, which might not save Mr. Tharpe from eventual execution. Here is the opinion, and the dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas.” … “Justice Thomas goes full Scalia in this closing paragraph. “Today’s decision can be explained only by the “unusual fact” of Gattie’s first affidavit. The Court 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 moral courage. By remanding this case to the Court of Appeals for a useless do-over, the Court is not doing Tharpe any favors. 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 handwringing, I respectfully dissent.”

“The ethics of interviewing an intoxicated man, to try to save your client from execution, are questionable. One might also ask what this says about the death penalty process. The state bends over backwards to give the illusion of fairness, and due process. An attorney goes out, interviewing jurors seven years after the trial, trying to find dirt. Getting a criminal off on a technicality is a regrettable consequence of our judicial system. Maybe in this case justice would have been served with a life sentence, without fishing trip juror interviews.”

The efforts of the defense attorneys paid off. Keith Tharpe died in prison, of natural causes. There had been speculation in death penalty forums that the execution of Mr. Tharpe was going to happen soon. Does this mean that Jaquelin Freeman did not receive justice? Does death from cancer … which probably was more painful than an overdose of pentobarbital … not serve justice? These are issues for people who like to argue about the law. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

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