The Supreme Court has been cracking down on racism in the criminal justice system lately. In this case, decided without oral argument, the Court says a man on death row deserves a new trial because one of the jurors signed an affidavit demonstrating that racism factored into the verdict. Three Justices dissent.
The case is Tharpe v. Sellers, decided on January 8. Post trial, the defense team got one of the jurors, Barney Gattie, to sign an affidavit stating that he thought "there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers." He also said the defendant "wasn't in the 'good' black folks category" and "should get the death penalty for what he did," and that "some of the jurors voted for death because they felt Tharpe should be an example to other blacks who kill blacks, but that wasn't my reason." Gattie also said, "after studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls."
The Supreme Court says that this "remarkable affidavit," which Gattie never retracted, "presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected Gattie's vote for a death verdict."
Justice Thomas writes the dissent, which Justices Alito and Gorsuch join. Thomas is not happy with the majority. He writes, "If bad facts make bad law, then 'unusual facts' make unusual decisions." He accuses the majority of "bending the rules" to "show its concern for a black capital inmate." Then, in a Scalia-like barb, he writes, "the Court must think it is showing its concern for racial justice. It is not."
After summarizing the gruesome details of the murder, Thomas notes that Gattie signed a second affidavit that said he "did not vote to impose the death penalty because Tharpe was a black man" but because Tharpe was guilty and showed no remorse. The second affidavit also said that Tharpe's lawyers took his statements out of context and they "were deceiving and misrepresented what they stood for." In a later deposition, Gattie said that on the day he signed the first affidavit, he drank "maybe a 12 pack, and a few drinks of whiskey." In addition to attacking the procedural defects surrounding the defendant's habeas corpos petition, Thomas says "no reasonable jurist could debate the question of prejudice in light of the second affidavit in which Hattie said he did not swear to the first affidavit and "had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol on the day he signed it." The other jurors denied imposing the death penalty out of racial prejudice. In the end, Thomas says, the Court should defer to the lower court's credibility determination on this issue, which found against racial prejudice.