Governor’s Council commutes sentences of two men convicted of murder
Thomas Koonce, William Allen are now eligible for parole
THE GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL on Wednesday voted unanimously to commute the sentences of two men convicted of first-degree murder, Thomas Koonce and William Allen, sealing the deal on the first commutations in Massachusetts for first-degree murder in 25 years.
Koonce and Allen must still have a hearing before the Parole Board before they can be released from prison. The Parole Board is the same body that recommended Koonce and Allen have their sentences commuted.
“These two men spent a significant amount of time paying for their crime in terms of their rehabilitation,” Governor’s Councilor Mary Hurley said at the meeting. “It’s not what they did back when they were found guilty. It’s what they have done with their lives since then.”
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, announced January 12 that he would commute Koonce and Allen’s sentences from first-degree murder to second-degree murder, the first commutations issued since he took office in 2015. The Governor’s Council must approve any commutations or pardons.
“It is our expectation and hope that these releases will be forthcoming,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chairs the Governor’s Council meetings.
Frances Bynoe, the fiancé of William Allen’s father and a family spokesperson, said Allen is most looking forward to “a nice dinner” when he is released. He is also excited to get together with his cousins, aunts, and uncles – some of whom have gotten married and had children while Allen was incarcerated. “They are a very strong family which will give William plenty of love and support,” Bynoe said at a State House press conference after the vote.
Allen issued a statement through his attorney, Kristine McDonald, thanking God and everyone who believed he deserved a second chance. “You’ve given hope to a lot of us in [the Department of Correction] because this door has opened once again, and everyone is working on themselves so they could be awarded the same opportunity as I have been given today,” Allen said.
Koonce’s attorney Timothy Foley said Koonce has been praying – for his victim’s family, and for the Parole Board and the Governor’s Council to have the strength to let him go free. Foley said Koonce told him during a conversation Tuesday that “he’s going to leave his faith in the hands of God, and God has it under control.”
“He’s excited about coming out and helping people to make sure they don’t make the mistakes he made in life,” Foley said.
Koonce, 54, is a former Marine from Brockton who served 30 years in prison for the murder of Mark Santos. He shot out of a car window during a fight and claimed he never intended to hit anyone. He had no criminal history. According to the Parole Board’s recommendation, Koonce participated in educational, rehabilitation, and restorative justice programs in prison, held prison jobs, had minimal disciplinary infractions, and expressed remorse for his actions.
Governor’s Councilor Joseph Ferreira called Koonce a “model prisoner.”
Allen, 48, served 27 years in prison for his role in the 1994 murder of Purvis Bester during an attempted robbery in Brockton. Allen was in the other room when his friend stabbed Bester, and the friend, who took a plea deal, has since been released on parole. According to the Parole Board, Allen participated in numerous rehabilitative, educational, and service programs in prison, earned vocational licenses to be a barber, food service worker, and law clerk, and served as a Eucharistic minister for the Catholic community. He took responsibility for his role in the murder.
Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney suggested race played a role in both men’s convictions, noting that both men are Black but there were no Black jurors in either trial. “William was given the most unfair sentence, life in prison without parole, but he didn’t kill anyone. He wasn’t even in the room,” Devaney said. “I wish I had a magic wand and could turn back the clock and give him the justice he deserves.”
But Jubinville, who represented Allen at his trial, said there was no evidence the jury was racist.
Jubinville said Allen was convicted based on the law of felony murder, which says someone involved in a crime during which a person is killed is guilty of murder even if someone else committed the killing. (The Supreme Judicial Court has since narrowed the law’s applicability.) Jubinville said he was “literally shaking” Allen to convince him to take a plea deal. “He had no chance of winning that case…he knew that going in,” Jubinville said. But Jubinville described Allen, then 20, as a naïve “young kid” who kept insisting he did not kill anyone, and he wanted to go to trial.A coalition of clergy and liberal community organization groups have championed Allen’s cause, and activists cheered the Governor’s Council’s decision. “A commutation like this does more than prevent needless isolation for one person. It incentivizes rehabilitation among those who had no hope,” said Joyce Krensky, a leader in the Second Chance Justice project of Brockton Interfaith Community.