The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray / AJC file)

BREAKING: Clemency denied for Georgia man scheduled to die Tuesday


The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency for convicted killer Keith Tharpe.

Tharpe still has several court appeals pending that could delay his execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday night. His lawyers are arguing one of the jurors who convicted him and sentenced him to die was a racist. They also maintain that he is not eligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled.

At the parole board on Monday, 20 supporters - including a daughter and a granddaughter - had argued for mercy.

Tharpe is scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing his 29-year-old sister-in-law, Jaquelyn Freeman on Sept. 25, 1990, dragging her from a car and shooting her multiple times with a shotgun.

On Monday about 20 people supporting Tharpe — friends, relatives, religious counselors and attorneys — crowded into the small parole board meeting room to ask for mercy.

But prosecutor Stephen Bradley said the board also heard from relatives, investigators and others whose “lives were shattered” when Tharpe murdered Freeman exactly 27 years ago.

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Tharpe was convicted of killing Freeman, 29, moments after she and her sister-in-law, Tharpe’s wife, started their drive from Jones County to their jobs in Macon.

If Tharpe is put to death, he will be the second man Georgia has executed this year. Last year, the state executed a record nine murderers.

By Monday morning, Tharpe had legal appeals pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Superior Court in Butts County, which is where Georgia’s death row is located.

Keith Tharpe is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

In the clemency petition before the state parole board, advocates argued that Tharpe is not the same man who shot Freeman three times with a shotgun

Also expected were two religious advisors and a lawyer who heard juror Barney Gattie, who is now deceased, refer to Tharpe using a racial slur.

According to court filings, when Tharpe’s lawyers interviewed Gattie in 1998, the former juror told them he believed there were “two kinds of black people.” He told them that if the vicitm had been in the same category as Tharpe he would not have voted to punish him with death. But Freeman, Gattie said, came from a “good black family,”  according to court filings.

In his clemency petition, Tharpe’s friends and family described him as a good man, not at all like the violent, angry man who killed his sister-in-law and then kidnapped and sexually assaulted his estranged wife. They said he regrets the crime and is now religious.

The day before Freeman was killed, Tharpe threatened his wife in a phone call.

She had moved in with her mother almost a month earlier, escaping their violent marriage. On Sept. 24, 1990, Tharpe told her if she wanted to “play dirty,” he would show her “what dirty was.”

The next day, Tharpe borrowed a pickup truck and drove to intercept his estranged wife and her sister. He blocked their car, dragged Freeman from the vehicle and shot her, reloading the shotgun after each trigger pull. He left Freeman in a ditch for her husband, an EMT, to discover her moments later when he passed the spot driving their children to school.