“The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied the latest petition from a black Georgia death row inmate who is claiming juror racial bias, prompting an angry statement from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor agreed that the denial may have been justified because the latest decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Keith Tharpe’s case did not turn on the merits of his claim, but rather on procedural issues.
But Sotomayor, who has raised concerns about capital cases in the recent past, said she was “profoundly troubled by the underlying facts of this case.” Sotomayor wrote:
“I therefore concur in the court’s decision to deny Tharpe’s petition for certiorari. As this may be the end of the road for Tharpe’s juror-bias claim, however, we should not look away from the magnitude of the potential injustice that procedural barriers are shielding from judicial review.”
Sotomayor recounted the statements made in an affidavit by a white member of the jury, Barney Gattie, who has since died, that “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers” and that Tharpe, “who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in [his] book, should get the electric chair for what he did.”
Tharpe, Sotomayor noted, has not received a hearing on the merits of his racial-bias claims. Gattie’s statements, Sotomayor wrote, ‘amount to an arresting demonstration that racism can and does seep into the jury system. The work of ‘purg[ing] racial prejudice from the administration of justice’ … is far from done.’”
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