JACKSON, Ga. — A man who killed his sister-in-law 27 years ago is scheduled to die Tuesday as Georgia carries out its second execution of the year.
Keith Leroy Tharpe, 59 and known as “Bo,” is set to be put to death at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital. He was convicted of murder and two counts of kidnapping in the September 1990 slaying of Jaquelyn Freeman.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles — the only authority in Georgia with the power to commute a death sentence — declined on Monday to spare his life.
Tharpe’s lawyers have asked the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution. They claim he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for execution, and that his death sentence is tainted by a juror’s racial bias.
One juror freely used a racial slur when he was interviewed by Tharpe’s legal team years later, according to filings by Tharpe’s lawyers. Juror Barney Gattie, who has since died, also said Freeman was from a family of “good black folks,” but Tharpe wasn’t in that category and should be executed for his crime, according to an affidavit.
Gattie later said his comments had been “taken all out of proportion” and “misconstrued.” He testified that he voted for the death penalty because of the facts of the case, not because of Tharpe’s race.
Lawyers for the state say in court filings that Tharpe’s intellectual disability claim already has been reviewed and rejected by the courts. The juror racial bias claim has already been decided and is barred by evidence rules, they argue. They also say there is insufficient evidence to show that juror bias affected the trial’s outcome, they argue.
The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stop the execution. The court agreed with the state lawyers that the claims had already been reviewed and rejected and that the racial bias claim is barred by evidence rules. Tharpe has another challenge pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tharpe’s wife left him on Aug. 28, 1990, taking their four daughters with her to live with her mother. Tharpe ignored an order not to contact his wife or her family and during an argument over the phone on Sept. 24, 1990, he said that if she wanted to “play dirty,” he would show her what dirty was, a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case said.
As his wife was driving to work with her brother’s wife the next morning, Tharpe used a borrowed truck to block them. He ended up shooting Freeman to death.
A little more than three months after the killing Tharpe was tried in Jones County, convicted and sentenced to death.
In a clemency application, Tharpe’s lawyers described a tough childhood and an extensive history of substance abuse that they say included getting black-out drunk by age 10 and a debilitating crack cocaine habit.
They say Tharpe feels deep remorse over Freeman’s killing and has kicked his addictions during his time in prison, devoted his life to God and sought to help improve the lives of others.
Tharpe would be the second inmate executed this year by the state, and the 19th nationwide. Georgia executed nine people last year.