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Supreme Court grants temporary stay of execution in Georgia

The US Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay of execution for a Georgia inmate whose attorneys argue that the 59-year-old black man's death sentence was tainted by a juror's racial bias.

Keith Leroy Tharpe, known as Bo, was set to be put to death on Tuesday at 7pm at the state prison by injection, but the hour came and went as the justices considered his case.

The court announced the temporary stay at just before 11pm.

Tharpe was convicted of murder and two counts of kidnapping in the September 1990 killing of Jaquelyn Freeman.

Ms Freeman was travelling to work with Mr Tharpe's estranged wife when he blocked their vehicle with a borrowed truck, ordered them out and fatally shot Ms Freeman.

"I'm glad they're willing to take the time to consider these serious issues in Mr Tharpe's case," said his attorney Brian Kammer.

The justices will now decide whether to hear Tharpe's case, but it's not immediately clear when that decision will be made.

Years after Tharpe's trial, his legal team interviewed a juror in the case and he freely used a racial slur, according to filings by Tharpe's lawyers.

Juror Barney Gattie, who has since died, also said Ms 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.

Mr 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.

The state of Georgia said the juror racial bias claim was barred by evidence rules and that there is insufficient evidence to show that juror bias affected the trial's outcome.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed with the state lawyers and refused to stop the execution, and Tharpe's attorneys appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Tharpe's wife left him on August 28 1990, taking their four daughters with her to live with her mother.

He ignored an order not to contact his wife or her family and during an argument over the phone on September 24 1990, he said that if she wanted to "play dirty,", 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 Ms Freeman to death.

About three months after the killing, Tharpe was tried, 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 Ms 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.

AP

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