Two Massachusetts men convicted of first-degree murder could soon become eligible for parole after Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday announced his plans to commute the sentences of both men, saying they had taken responsibility for their actions and paid their debt to the state.
Baker said he would seek to commute the sentences of Thomas Koonce, a 54-year-old who has served 30 years in prison, and William Allen, a 48-year-old who has been in prison for 27 years.
Both men are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole following first-degree murder convictions, and Baker wants to reduce those sentences to second-degree murder. The action, which needs approval from the Governor's Council, will make both men eligible for parole after decades behind bars.
The Advisory Board of Pardons, which reviews petitions for commutations, recommended that Baker reduce Koonce and Allen's sentences to second-degree murder.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
Under the state constitution, the governor has the power to scale back a part of a criminal sentence, but it is an extremely rare step. The commutations are the first for Baker during his two terms in office and only the second time a Bay State governor has executed that power since 1997.
"The authority given to me by the people of Massachusetts to commute and pardon individuals is one of the most sacred and important powers of this office," Baker said in a statement. "There are few things as important to me in this position as ensuring justice is served for the individuals impacted by a crime and my responsibility to ensure fair application of justice to all. To make these difficult decisions, I spent months carefully weighing the circumstances of the two terrible crimes, the actions of the two men since and the Parole Board's recommendation for commutation."
"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 continued, "I hope the Governor's Council carefully weighs the facts of these cases as well as the undeniable impact on the families involved and reaches the same decision."
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
The eight-member Governor's Council plans to convene in a formal assembly at noon on Wednesday for the first time after a five-week holiday break.