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William Allen granted parole with life sentence commuted

The second man to have his life sentence commuted by Gov. Charlie Baker will be released on parole.

The Massachusetts Parole Board has unanimously voted to grant parole to William Allen. He has been incarcerated for almost 28 years on first degree murder charges. He's expected to be released within a month.

Allen was convicted of the 1994 murder of Purvis Bester in Brockton. Allen and another man both took part in the robbery, but it was the accomplice who fatally stabbed Bester. That man was released on parole more than a decade ago.

Because Allen would not plead guilty to murder charges, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under a former state law that allowed for so-called "felony murder " charges. Under the former law, someone who participated in a crime but played no role in a killing to be punished as harshly as the actual murderer. The law changed with a 2017 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling that prohibited first degree murder convictions — and their automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole — against a person who did not kill.

In outlining the factors behind its decision, the board cited the rehabilitative programming Allen participated in while incarcerated and his support in the community. Bester's family members and Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz supported Allen's release.

"He has a strong support network and a strong re-entry plan," the board wrote in the decision. "Through his rehabilitative work and example set for other inmates, he has exhibited readiness for re-entry into the community."

Among the dozens of people wrote letters in support of Allen's release was New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who testified before the Governor's Council in support of Allen's commutation.

Allen, now 48, will live with his family in Brockton. He plans to work at a local car dealership and volunteer at a prisoner reentry program. Allen will be on parole for the rest of his life.

Earlier this year, Baker recommended commuting Allen's sentence to second-degree murder charges, thus making him eligible for parole. Allen's commutation, and that of Thomas Koonce, were the first clemency requests granted by Baker since he took office. They are the first commutations of first degree murder sentences in a quarter century.

Koonce was granted parole last week. His release plan requires that he live in a reentry program for four months before he can move in to the community.

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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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