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Massachusetts Governor's Council approves commuting 2 life prison sentences

Thomas Koonce, who has been incarcerated for three decades for first-degree murder, answers questions in January 2022 from the Governor's Council, which was considering his bid for a commutation to become eligible for parole. He was joined by his attorney Timothy Foley (right).
Sam Doran
/
State House News Service
Thomas Koonce, who has been incarcerated for three decades for first-degree murder, answers questions in January 2022 from the Governor's Council, which was considering his bid for a commutation to become eligible for parole. He was joined by his attorney Timothy Foley (right).

The Governor’s Council voted on Wednesday to commute two men’s life prison sentences, marking the first time in 25 years the body chose to endorse release for a person serving a life sentence for first degree murder. The two represented the first clemency petitions ever approved by Gov. Charlie Baker.

“I hope this represents an era where clemency is more common,” said Councilor Paul DePalo.

The council vote is one of the last steps in the commutation process. The men’s sentences are now reduced to second degree murder, which makes them eligible for parole.

In a statement after the vote, Baker thanked the council and called it the “right decision.”

“The authority to commute and pardon individuals is one of the most sacred and important powers of this office,” Baker said. ” I spent months reviewing these cases, including the circumstances of the two terrible crimes and the actions of the two men since. I believe both men have taken responsibility for their actions and have paid their debt to the Commonwealth by serving sentences longer than most individuals found guilty of similar actions.”

William Allen has been in prison for 28 years for the murder of Purvis Bester in Brockton. Allen participated in an armed robbery that led to Bester’s murder. Although not the man who stabbed Bester, Allen refused to plead guilty to lesser charges. The man who did kill Bester was released on parole more than a decade ago.

At a hearing earlier this month, Allen, 48, told the board that he has taken responsibility for how his actions contributed the Bester’s death. He said he has taken advantage of prison programming and wants to work to help at-risk youth.

If released, Allen said he would live with his family in Brockton and will have employment at a local car dealership. He is incarcerated at Old Colony Correctional Center.

“We are elated,” said Patty DeJuneas, Allen’s attorney. “On this day I’ve never been more proud to be a lawyer and never been more proud of a client than I am of William Allen. This is what should happen. It’s the right thing.”

Thomas Koonce, 54, has been in prison for 30 years for the fatal shooting of Mark Santos in New Bedford. In 1987, Koonce fired his gun out a car window during an altercation, hitting Santos. His first trial ended with a hung jury. He was convicted in 1992.

If Koonce is released, he would likely live in a faith-based program in the community. He is currently incarcerated at MCI Norfolk.

“He’s doing well,” said Timothy Foley, Koonce’s attorney.  “At the same time he’s very humble. Every time we have a step like this — closer to his potential release — we think of the Santos family and have them in our thoughts and prayers as well.”

Both Koonce’s and Allen’s commutation requests will now go before the parole board, which has already recommended commutation when it reviewed their petitions its role as the Advisory Board of Pardons. The parole board will then hold hearings on conditions for the men’s release. That is expected to happen later this year. Both Koonce and Allen will be on parole for life.

There are 127 clemency petitions pending, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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