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Mass. parole board votes to release Thomas Koonce, convicted in 1987 fatal shooting in New Bedford

Thomas Koonce, who has been incarcerated for three decades for first-degree murder, answers questions from the Governor's Council. His attorney Timothy Foley, right. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Thomas Koonce, who has been incarcerated for three decades for first-degree murder, answers questions from the Governor's Council. His attorney Timothy Foley, right. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

The Massachusetts Parole Board unanimously voted Tuesday to grant parole to Thomas Koonce, a convicted murder whose life sentence was commuted by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year.

Koonce, 55, has been incarcerated for three decades for the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Mark Santos in New Bedford in 1987. Koonce, who was 20 and on leave from the Marine Corps at the time, shot his gun out a car window during a fight in New Bedford, hitting Santos.

The parole board said it considered a number of factors, including Koonce's age at the time of his offence, prior criminal record, testimony at the hearing and views of the public on the move. Santos' family wrote to the board last year indicating they opposed his release.

This is the final step in the commutation process. The parole board initially approved Koonce's request to commute his first-degree murder sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole to second-degree murder — making him eligible for parole. Baker and the Governor's Council both approved the commutation. The vote this week then cleared the way for Koonce to be released from prison.

Among the conditions of Koonce's release are that he be released to the Justice Brooke House for four months, abide by a curfew and electronic monitoring and receive counseling to adjust to life outside of prison.

Koonce's attorney Timothy Foley said Koonce will be set free once his living arrangements are set at the Justice Brooke House.

"He feels accomplished and very, very happy," Foley said "He's also thankful to the parole board and the governor as well."

Koonce's commutation and that of William Allen were the first clemency requests Baker has granted since he took office. They mark the first time in a quarter century that a life in prison sentence for murder has been commuted.

The parole board is still reviewing whether to grant parole to Allen.

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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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