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Interfaith Group Organizes Effort To Commute Prisoner's Sentence

William Allen in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Kristine McDonald)
William Allen in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Kristine McDonald)

For years, supporters of William Allen have been trying to get his life sentence in prison commuted. That effort is getting renewed urgency because Allen has contracted the coronavirus.

The Brockton Interfaith Community, a coalition of religious leaders, is urging Gov. Charlie Baker to schedule a hearing on the petition to commute the life sentence of 47-year-old William Allen.

He's been incarcerated for the last 27 years for participating in an armed robbery of Purvis Bester. Another man, Rolando Perry admitted to the killing, accepted a plea deal and was released on parole 11 years ago. Allen refused the deal.

Allen's attorneys said he is the type of prisoner who should be given a second chance and meets the governor's guidelines for those seeking clemency. They said he has participated in numerous prison programs, has worked as a Eucharistic minister in prison and was deemed low-risk of reoffending by an independent psychologist and the Department of Correction.

Although Allen has underlying medical issues, including a heart ailment and lupus, they said he does not appear to be severely affected by the coronavirus after testing positive last week.

"The Commonwealth gave up on William Allen at the age of 20," the group's letter to Baker reads. "Nevertheless, he has proved that he is much better than his worst mistake. Releasing him is a 'win-win' — for society and for William. For too long cases such as this have been ignored and deemed too risky for even a hearing."

The group has not received a response to the letter.

"Mr. Allen’s petition remains pending with no final recommendation made at this time," a spokesman for the executive office of public safety and security said in a statement to WBUR. "In addition to ongoing review of clemency petitions, the Board has held about 2,350 parole hearings since April."

Four years ago, Allen's attorneys filed a petition for clemency, but a hearing still has not been scheduled.  In October, the parole board held its first commutation hearing since Baker took office in 2015. The board reviewed the case of Thomas Koonce who has been incarcerated since 1992 for a fatal shooting. The board has not yet issued a decision.

"As a community, we’re shocked and ashamed that such a meritorious petition would go so long with no action," the Brockton Interfaith Community's letter to Baker reads. "It seems incredibly unjust that a process exists in name but is not actually available for someone like William. We believe that you can and want to remedy that."

The group announced on Wednesday that it is starting a public education campaign about the clemency process, specifically focusing on Allen's case.

"Clemency is a powerful tool for correcting unjust sentences and confronting systemic racism," said Kristine McDonald, one of Allen's attorneys. "William is seeking a commutation: a reduction in his sentence to time served or at least the chance for parole eligibility. William has hope, but with a dysfunctional parole board that until 2020 has not held a hearing in five years, that hope is fading."

For a prisoner to seek clemency in Massachusetts, the parole board must hold a hearing and make a recommendation to the governor. If the governor approves, the Governor's Council must also support the move.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the Massachusetts executive office of public safety and security.

This article was originally published on January 13, 2021.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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