The idea of the last-minute reprieve granted by a distant, unknowable dispenser of mercy to a man condemned to death has a powerful hold on our imaginations. Fyodor Dostoevsky's eleventh hour pardon by the czar in many ways shaped his literary career. The scene of the haunted Death Row prisoner who awaits word from the governor as a ticking clock punctuates his final hours is a stock vignette of Hollywood crime films. Anyone who has ever seized on the slimmest hope, whose fate has been committed to the hands of another - virtually all of us - can identify with the plight of the condemned prisoner. In that moment, the convicted criminal is reinvested with some of the humanity which our imaginations deprived him of when we assayed the horrible and violent acts that warranted his execution by the State.
Daniel T. Kobil,
Due Process in Death Penalty Commutations: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Clemency,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol27/iss2/4