Baker commutes sentences of two men convicted of murder
If Governor’s Council agrees, Thomas Koonce and William Allen can apply for parole
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday commuted the sentences of two men who were convicted of murder. the first commutations the Republican governor has issued since he took office.
“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,” Baker wrote in a press release announcing his decision.
The commutations for Thomas Koonce and William Allen still need to be approved by the Governor’s Council before they can take effect.
Baker agreed to commute both men’s sentences from first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole, to second-degree murder. That would give both men the right to apply for parole immediately. The Parole Board would decide whether to grant their release. If granted, both Koonce and Allen would remain on parole for the rest of their lives.
The governor has a year to decide whether to act on a Parole Board recommendation. Baker acted on the recommendations for both men two days before the deadline to act on Koonce’s petition, though he had until September to decide on Allen’s case.
Baker announced earlier this month that he is not running for reelection. For political reasons, governors often act on pardons and commutations late in their final term. The last commutation in Massachusetts occurred in 2014, when Gov. Deval Patrick, just before leaving office, approved the early release from prison of a Brockton woman convicted of distributing cocaine.
Baker said in his statement that he “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.”
Koonce, 54, is a former Marine from Brockton who served 30 years in prison for the murder of Mark Santos. On July 20, 1987, Koonce fired out of a car window during a fight in New Bedford between a group from New Bedford and a group from Brockton. Koonce claimed he shot upwards and never intended to hit anyone. He had no criminal history. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1992, after an earlier trial ended in a mistrial.
According to the Parole Board’s recommendation, Koonce participated extensively in educational, rehabilitation, and restorative justice programs in prison, including earning a bachelor’s degree through Boston University’s prison education program. He held prison jobs for 19 years and received only two minor disciplinary infractions. He has expressed remorse for his actions.
Several of Santos’s relatives opposed Koonce’s petition for commutation.
The Parole Board, in making its recommendation, stressed that Koonce was serving a sentence for a single act of violence, for which he accepted responsibility, and he has “maintained exemplary conduct” during his commitment.
Like Koonce, Allen participated in numerous rehabilitative, educational, and service programs in prison. He 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. He also took responsibility for his role in the murder.The man who actually murdered Bester pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was released on parole in 2011. Allen refused to take a plea deal and was convicted of felony murder, in which someone who is involved in a murder but does not actually commit it is considered culpable as if he committed the murder. A SJC ruling in 2017 narrowed the applicability of the rule so it would not have applied in Allen’s case, but Allen was sentenced years earlier.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz, whose office prosecuted the case, supported commutation, citing the changed legal context. Members of Bester’s family also supported Allen’s commutation.