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Andrea Lyon

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The Clock Is Ticking

Posted: 09/19/11 11:19 PM ET

In two days, unless the parole board acts, Troy Davis will be executed.

This case has garnered a huge amount of attention, and millions of people are worried that an innocent man will be executed. According to the Davis supporters, nearly a million people worldwide have signed petitions calling for clemency, with petitions last week delivered to state authorities containing about 650,000 signatures. The hearing was this morning.

It is hard to know what the board will do. After all, the appeals have all been ultimately unsuccessful, and most review boards defer to the courts on legal questions as well as questions of innocence. Yet as death penalty lawyer and Yale law professor Stephen Bright has said, there has been substantial evidence that he is in fact innocent, and he has maintained that for over a decade.

Seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted and there is no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. As I have written before, the court's willingness to overlook the very real possibility the wrong man is here in blind obeisance to technical rules is quite disturbing.

There are many voices that have been raised opposing this execution, adding mine is perhaps unnecessary. But I feel compelled to point out that this case is a prime example of the triumph of form over substance, of the court's deep reluctance to admit the possibility that a mistake has occurred and we should simply try the case again. To allow an execution in light of the substantial questions of innocence here is unconscionable. To learn nothing from our history of getting it wrong, over and over again in capital cases is disheartening.

It has been my experience that sometimes a lot of support for a criminal defendant can boomerang -- it can cause those with decision-making power to feel they need to dig in and not look "weak" by doing what appears to be the liberal thing. It is my fervent hope that this will not be what the board does, that concerns over fairness, justice and the finality of execution will cause them to act responsibly and halt this execution.