In only the second clemency hearing during Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, a district attorney told the parole board Tuesday that he supports commuting the first degree murder sentence of William Allen.
“This is one of those rare cases where a sentence of first degree murder warrants reconsideration,” said Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, whose office prosecuted the 1997 murder case against Allen. “I am asking you to recommend to Gov. Baker that Mr. Allen’s sentence be commuted to life with the possibility of parole.”
During the three and a half hour long hearing, board members questioned Allen about being involved in a 1994 robbery in Brockton that led to the murder of Purvis Bester. The man who killed Bester, Rolando Perry, pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was paroled more than a decade ago.
“Principles of fairness and equity require that we take this into account in when considering whether Allen’s sentence remains a just outcome in this case,” Cruz said.
Cruz pointed to changes the state law regarding “joint venturers” — those who participated in, but did not directly commit a crime. In 2017, the state Supreme Judicial Court said that defendants can not be convicted in fatal crimes unless they knew their actions would turn deadly.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing focused on Allen with board members asking him about the crime and what actions he’s taken during his 27 years of incarceration to improve himself. He told the board he has participated in several self-improvement programs, became a Eucharistic minister and worked as a mentor for prisoners with severe mental illness. If he is paroled, Allen would live with his family in Brockton and said he hopes to become a mentor for young people.
“I am not asking you to forget what I’ve done,” Allen told the board. “I just want you to know that’s not who I am today and if I’m given a chance at freedom, I want to make good footprints for children of color to follow because I don’t want them to follow the same footprints as I did.”
Five people testified on Allen’s behalf, including retired SJC justice Robert Cordy, who is also representing Allen before the board. New England Patriots player Devin McCourty has publicly spoken in favor of Allen’s commutation. McCourty has supported various social justice issues and said he met with Allen in prison and wants to use his platform as a football player to draw attention to Allen’s commutation request.
The board will make a recommendation on whether to allow Allen to be eligible for parole. Gov. Charlie Baker will then decide and his decision must be approved by the Governor’s Council.
In January, the board unanimously recommended commutation for Thomas Koonce. It was the first commutation hearing held during the Baker administration, which began in 2015. He spent 28 years in prison for the murder of a New Bedford man. The governor has not yet made a decision on Koonce.