Death Penalty News and Developments for January 20 — January 262020

NEWS—January 24: Keith “Bo” Tharpe has died on Georgia’s death row. He was 61 years old. Tharpe was tried and sentenced to death in 1991, a mere three months after his offense. His sentence was tainted by a racist juror who referred to Tharpe as a “ni***r” and said he wondered whether “Black people even have souls.” Tharpe’s appeals lawyers said he likely died of complications from cancer.

NEWS—January 24: The Montgomery County, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s office has announced that it will not seek the death penalty for a fourth time against former death-row prisoner Robert Fisher (shown receiving a Purple Heart from President Lyndon Johnson). The announcement came less than two weeks after prosecutors had conceded in an argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that Fisher, who was initially convicted and sentenced to death in 1987, was entitled to a new trial. Fisher had twice been unconstitutionally convicted and a death sentence imposed in a third proceeding also had been overturned.

NEWS—January 20: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has granted Texas’ motion to reconsider the Circuit panel’s decision overturning death-row prisoner Melissa Lucio’s conviction. In an unpublished, unsigned opinion issued on July 29, 2019, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had overturned Lucio’s conviction for allegedly killing her two-year-old daughter, finding that the trial court had violated her right to present a complete defense when it blocked her from calling an expert witness to show that statements she gave to police had been coerced. The defense had presented evidence at trial that the child had died from head trauma from falling down a flight of stairs and had not been beaten to death.