Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court ruled Monday ordered a re-examination of the case of a black death row inmate after one of the jurors at his trial questioned whether black people have souls.
The high court in September halted the execution of Keith Tharpe, who was hours away from receiving a lethal injection, after his lawyers argued that racism had played a "pivotal role" in his death sentence.
Tharpe was found guilty of the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law Jaquelin Freeman, which took place as she drove to work with his estranged wife in the southern US state of Georgia.
In 1998, a group that provides free legal assistance to inmates interviewed members of the jury that imposed the death sentence.
One of them was a white man named Barney Gattie, who according to court records said that: "There are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers."
"Because I knew the victim and her husband's family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn't in the 'good' black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair," Gattie said.
The juror also said that study of the Bible had led him to wonder "if black people even have souls."
"Gattie's remarkable affidavit -- which he never retracted -- presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected Gattie's vote for a death verdict," the high court wrote in its 6-3 unsigned opinion instructing a lower court to re-examinee the case.
Defense attorney Brian Kammer said in a statement that there was "clear evidence of racial animus on the part of one of the jurors."
Three conservative justices of the court -- Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch -- dissented.
Thomas, the sole African-American Supreme Court justice, called the majority opinion "ceremonial handwringing" that would ultimately delay justice for Freeman.
In several cases in recent years, the US Supreme Court has established that racial prejudice has no place in the American legal system.
Last February, the high court suspended the execution of a Texan who had been cast during his trial as being potentially more dangerous because he was black.
The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of a black man in May 2016 who was sentenced to death by a jury of 12 white people from which black jurors were excluded.