Tharpe v. Sellers

Justia Summary

Tharpe moved to reopen his federal habeas corpus proceedings regarding his claim that the Georgia jury that convicted him of murder included a white juror, Gattie, who was biased against Tharpe because he is black. The district court denied the motion as procedurally defaulted in state court. The Eleventh Circuit denied a certificate of appealability application based on its conclusion, rooted in the state court’s fact-finding, that Tharpe had not established prejudice. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. While the state court’s prejudice determination is binding on federal courts absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, Tharpe produced a sworn affidavit, signed by Gattie, indicating Gattie’s view that “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers”; that Tharpe, “who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did”; that “[s]ome 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”; and that, “[a]fter studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.” Gattie’s "remarkable" affidavit presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict. "At the very least, jurists of reason could debate whether Tharpe has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the state court’s factual determination was wrong.”