Murder Convictions of 2 Massachusetts Men Commuted After Extensive Reformations

Two men convicted of first-degree murder could be eligible for parole after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker commuted their convictions to second-degree murder on Wednesday following a recommendation from the state Parole Board.

Thomas Koonce and William Allen both had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A 54-year-old former Marine, Koonce was convicted of killing Mark Santos in 1992. He killed Santos after firing a gun out of a car window during an altercation in 1987.

Koonce helped establish the restorative justice program at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk) while incarcerated, as well as earning a bachelor's degree through the prison education program at Boston University. According to the Baker administration, Koonce has been active in his church and employed during his time in prison.

Allen, 48, was convicted in 1997 in the 1994 fatal stabbing of Purvis Bester after Allen and a second individual broke into Bester's apartment.

Like Koonce, Allen participated in the restorative justice and violence alternative programs. Working at Bridgewater State Hospital with severely mentally ill patients, he also served a eucharistic minister for the Catholic community. During his sentence, he earned vocational licenses to be a barber, food service worker and law clerk.

Due to Koonce's and Allen's restorations while in prison, the State Parole Board recommended commutations, meaning their sentences would be substituted with lesser sentences, according to Cornell Law School's definition. Baker approved the commutations, but the Governor's Council must them, as well.

Prison Keys
Two men convicted of first-degree murder could be eligible for parole after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker commuted their convictions to second-degree murder on Wednesday following a recommendation from the state Parole Board. Fadel Senna/Getty Images

Baker said he spent months weighing the circumstances of the two crimes, the actions of the two men while incarcerated and the Parole Board's recommendations.

"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 said in a written statement.

"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," he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.