BOSTON (WHDH) – Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that he has commuted the first-degree murder sentences of two men who have spent decades in prison in connection with two separate killings in Massachusetts.
Thomas Koonce, 54, and William Allen, 48, are set to get their first-degree murder sentences commuted to second-degree murder, according to Baker’s office.
The commutations must now be approved by the governor’s council. If approved, Koonce and Allen would be eligible for a parole hearing and would be on parole for life if parole was granted.
“The authority given to me by the people of Massachusetts to commute and pardon individuals is one of the most sacred and important powers of this office,” Baker said in a statement. “There are few things as important to me in this position as ensuring justice is served for the individuals impacted by a crime and my responsibility to ensure fair application of justice to all. To make these difficult decisions, I spent months carefully weighing the circumstances of the two terrible crimes, the actions of the two men since and the Parole Board’s recommendation for commutation. I believe both men, having taken responsibility for their actions and paid their debt to the Commonwealth by serving sentences longer than most individuals found guilty of similar actions, deserve the right to seek parole from prison. I hope the Governor’s Council carefully weighs the facts of these cases as well as the undeniable impact on the families involved and reaches the same decision.”
Koonce, who is a former United States Marine, has served 30 years in prison for the murder of Mark Santos.
On July 20, 1987, Koonce fired out of the window of a car during an altercation in New Bedford, fatally wounding Santos, according to Baker’s office.
On June 23, 1992, a Bristol Superior Court jury convicted Koonce of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During his time in prison, Baker’s office says Koonce has participated in significant programming, become a leader to help other inmates benefit from some of those same programs, and helped to establish new programs, including the restorative justice program at MCI-Norfolk. He also earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies, magna cum laude, through Boston University’s prison education program.
Allen has served 27 years in prison for his role in the murder of Purvis Bester.
On February 8, 1994, Allen and a co-defendant broke into Bester’s Brockton apartment intending to rob him, and the co-defendant fatally stabbed Mr. Bester, according to Baker’s office.
On August 29, 1997, a Brockton Superior Court jury convicted Allen of first-degree murder for his joint participation in the robbery, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While incarcerated, Baker’s office says Allen participated in significant programming, including restorative justice and violence alternatives as both a student and a facilitator. He has earned vocational licenses to be a barber, food service worker, and law clerk, served as a Eucharistic minister for the Catholic community, and consistently held a job, including working as a companion and assistant to severely mentally ill patients at Bridgewater State Hospital.
In a written statement, Allen said, “I want to sincerely thank Gov. Baker, the Advisory Board of Pardons and everyone for believing in me…I promise I will never let you down.”
On Wednesday Patriots star and long-time advocate, Devin McCourty reacted to the governor’s decision.
“I would say it’s been the greatest team victory that I’ve ever been a part of to see,” he said.
McCourty has been supporting Allen for years and heard the news right before hitting the practice field.
“For a man who’s been in jail for 27 years on a life sentence be told that you’re going to go home. That to me that’s just unbelievable and to know that you play some part in that. It is a great feeling,” he said.
Allen’s attorney said Baker’s decision will send a message to others.
“Second chances are real in Massachusetts,” she said. “And that’s what Governor Baker has done today.”
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