William Allen makes his case for parole after Baker grants him clemency

William Allen speaks to the Governor's Council on Feb. 1, 2022. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
William Allen speaks to the Governor's Council on Feb. 1, 2022. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Massachusetts parole board reviewed plans to release William Allen from prison on Thursday, weeks after Gov. Charlie Baker commuted his life sentence.

Baker commuted the first-degree murder sentences for Allen and Thomas Koonce in January, setting the stage to free the two men from prison.

Over the course of two hours, the parole board questioned Allen, 48, about how he'll adjust to freedom after 25 years in prison. He was convicted in 1997 for an armed robbery that resulted in the murder of Purvis Bester in Brockton in 1994. Although Allen participated in the robbery, the man who fatally stabbed Bester pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges and was released on parole more than a decade ago.

"The fact that I am here before you is a blessing," said Allen, who appeared in a shirt and tie, with chains around his ankles and waist. "A chance for redemption doesn't come often in a lifetime. The only way I can hope to make amends to the Bester family is to live my life in a way that honors Mr. Bester's."

Bester's family supports Allen's release.

Attorneys Patty Dejuneas and Kristine McDonald appeared with Allen at the hearing. He was also represented by retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy, who has pointed out that Allen likely would not be convicted of first-degree murder today due to a change in the law made by the high court.

The law now requires a jury to find there was an intent to kill for a first-degree murder conviction. The change does not apply to cases before 2017, such as Allen's.

Parole Board Chair Gloriann Moroney asked Allen how he felt when he realized that the man who stabbed Bester was freed while he was still serving a life sentence.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hurt," Allen said. " But I can't dwell on that or hold onto that because then he has control over me."

While incarcerated, Allen has earned vocational licenses to be a barber, food service worker and law clerk. He also has served as a Eucharistic minister for the Catholic community, and worked as a companion and assistant to severely mentally ill patients at Bridgewater State Hospital.

Three supporters spoke on Allen's behalf Thursday, describing his work with mentally ill prisoners and the leadership roles he's had while incarcerated. All three told the board they would continue to support Allen if he is released.

If he is granted parole, Allen said he would like to live with his father in Brockton. He also has a job offer at a local car dealership. Eventually, he said, he wants to work with young people and serve as a "peer mentor for those in recovery from trauma, mental health and addiction."

Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, whose office handled the case before Cruz was DA, told the board Allen has "earned the right to return to the community," and Allen could help his office reach out to at risk young people.

"We strive to see a just outcome for everyone," Cruz said. " He will make a difference in our community. "

Allen's commutation case has received a lot of attention. A petition with more than 300 signatures was presented to the parole board supporting Allen.

And New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and other players rallied behind Allen's case. During the Governor's Council hearing, McCourty said he shared Allen’s story with the team, after which Coach Bill Belichick asked how he could help. The entire coaching staff sent a letter to Baker in support of Allen’s commutation.

This is the final step in the clemency process. Allen first filed his petition for commutation in 2017. The Governor's Council unanimously supported the petition last month, officially commuting Allen's sentence to second-degree murder and making him eligible for parole. If released, he will remain on parole for the rest of his life.

In announcing Allen's commutation, along with the commutation of the life sentence of Thomas Koonce, Baker said he "carefully weighed" the circumstances of their cases. These are the first commutations Baker has approved since he took office in 2015 and the first time the parole board has considered commuting sentences of those convicted of first-degree murder since 1997.

"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's statement said.

Koonce, 54, has been incarcerated for almost 30 years after firing a gun from a car window, striking and killing Mark Santos in New Bedford in 1987. The parole board is considering his potential release after his appearance before the board on March 24.


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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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