Keith Tharpe was arrested on 25 September 1990 and charged with the murder of his sister-in-law, Jaquelin Freeman, who was shot dead earlier that day. He was brought to trial in January 1991. During jury selection, the defence challenged the prosecutor’s dismissals of five of eight prospective African American jurors and raised evidence of this prosecutor’s history of discriminatory jury selection tactics. The judge nevertheless accepted the prosecutor’s “race-neutral” reasons for the dismissals and the trial proceeded before a jury with two African Americans serving on it. Keith Tharpe is African American, as was Jaquelin Freeman.
On 16 May 1998, Keith Tharpe’s appeal lawyers conducted an interview with a white male former juror on the case. In an affidavit, one of the two lawyers recalled that the former juror “stated that there are two kinds of black people in the world – ‘regular black folks’ and ‘niggers’.” She said that according to him, “if the victim in Mr Tharpe’s case had been one of the niggers, he would not have cared about her death”. The second lawyer also signed an affidavit recalling the former juror reflecting on whether “niggers even have souls. I don’t know. You tell me”; and that he “felt that because a black person doesn’t have a soul, giving one the death penalty was no big deal”. She recalled a second meeting with the former juror on 25 May 1998 to have him sign an affidavit documenting his prior statements. She stated that at this meeting, the former juror referred to one of the two African Americans on the jury, and who the lawyers were trying to locate, as a “nigger”.