Governor's Council hears commutation request for William Allen

For the second time in as many weeks, the Governor's Council reviewed a request to commute the life in prison sentence of a man convicted of murder.

William Allen's commutation petition has been approved by both Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Advisory Board of Pardons. The Governor's Council review on Wednesday was the next step in the process.

The hearings mark the first time in 25 years that the Governor's Council has considered commutation for someone convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"I understand that this moment, right here today, no matter what happens, is not just historical but monumental. It represents so much," Allen told the Council during his appearance Wednesday. "I understand that hope is not just in my heart, hope is also on my back and shoulders. I promise I will make you proud by doing good and being good and that I won’t let my fellow prisoners down either."

Allen has been in prison for 27 years for his role in an armed robbery that led to the death of Purvis Bester. Although Allen was not the killer, he was convicted of first-degree murder under the joint venture laws in place at the time.

The man who fatally stabbed Bester, Rolando Perry, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges and was released on parole more than a decade ago. Allen refused to take a plea deal that would have made him eligible for parole.

Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said one of the reasons behind his support for Allen's commutation is that laws have changed since Allen's 1997 trial and today he might not be convicted of first-degree murder. Cruz also said that Bester's family supports Allen's release.

"Mr. Allen's situation is truly unprecedented," Cruz testified.  "We have to revisit whether his sentence is just at this time. Rolando Perry is out, the Bester family agrees, the laws have changed, Mr. Allen took steps toward rehabilitation and the governor moved to commute his sentence."

Allen's commutation petition received some high-profile support, including from the New England Patriots. Several coaches, staff and players wrote a letter to Baker urging him to recommend Allen's commutation.

Patriots player Devin McCourty was among the eight supporters of Allen who testified before the Council Wednesday.

"I feel fortunate to look at William and say not only can I be a resource for him, but a friend," McCourty said. "I want to be there for him for what he needs."

Several Governor's Council members praised Allen for the rehabilitation efforts and positive steps he has taken while in prison, including working in a program for those with severe mental illness, serving as a Eucharistic minister and helping prevent an attack on a correction officer by another prisoner.

Councilor Robert Jubinville, who represented Allen during his trial, said he's in favor of commutation.

"I remember that young kid in Brockton Superior Court 27 years ago," Jubinville said. "I thought it was an injustice then and I think it's an injustice that you spent 27 years in jail. But you're here now and I think everyone on this board is going to vote for you."

If he is released, Allen's supporters said he would live with his father in Brockton and would likely have a job at a Brockton car dealership.

Massachusetts is known as being slow to grant clemency after two well-known cases of men who committed murder before completing their prison sentences. The Willy Horton case received national attention during the 1988 presidential campaign when former governor Michael Dukakis was a candidate. Horton, who was serving a life without parole sentence, escaped from a furlough program in 1986. He was then convicted of the rape and murder of woman in Maryland and remains incarcerated in Maryland. In 2009, Domenic Cinelli was released on parole and the next year he fatally shot Woburn police officer John Maguire during a robbery attempt. Cinelli was killed in the shootout with police.

Patty DeJuneas, one of Allen's attorneys became emotional during her testimony and said Allen's petition has had a "transformative effect on the criminal legal system."

"Commutations weren't a thing in Massachusetts," DeJuneas said. "We sought to make commutation apolitical. The Willy Horton effect, compounded by Domenic Cinelli, we had to overcome that and William lent his story for us to be able to do that."

The Council is scheduled to vote on Feb.16, when members will also vote on the commutation petition of Thomas Koonce. Last week the council reviewed Koonce's petition after the governor recommended his commutation as well.

Koonce has been in prison for almost 30 years for the shooting death of Mark Santos. The Bristol County District Attorney supports his commutation.

If the Governor's Council approves, the petitions go to the parole board, which already recommended commutation for both men in its role as the state Advisory Board of Pardons. The parole board would then determine possible conditions for the men's releases, which could happen later this year.


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Deborah Becker 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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