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Parole Board grants commutation hearing to man convicted in 1994 murder

The Massachusetts Parole Board granted a commutation hearing to a man sentenced to life without parole in a 1994 Brockton killing, offering him new hope after 27 years of incarceration, officials said Friday.

William Allen was convicted of first-degree felony murder in 1997 because a jury found that he had been a joint venturer in an armed robbery of a reputed drug dealer, though he didn’t actively participate in the killing, according to court documents.

No date has been set for Allen’s hearing, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for the board.

Allen, 47, was notified that he had been granted a hearing by letter on Thursday, according to Robert J. Cordy, one of his lawyers.

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Cordy, a retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, said he joined Allen’s legal team last year, at the invitation of Allen’s longtime attorneys Kristine A. McDonald and Patricia A. DeJuneas.

“I looked at the background of the case, and I was overwhelmed,” Cordy said in a phone interview. “I felt it was the most compelling case for commutation I’d ever seen.”

Allen’s attorneys say he has lived an exemplary life behind bars and was convicted of a crime that was committed when he was so young — just 20 — that he didn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions or his legal strategy.

“The whole field of study of emerging adult brain science has really come to a consensus that someone at that age, at age 20, really lacks the capacity to use proper judgment, and resist peer pressure, and assess risk,” McDonald said.

At the time of Allen’s conviction, the state’s “joint venture” law held those involved in a crime equally guilty. Allen could no longer be charged with first-degree murder following the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2017 ruling that defendants in fatal crimes cannot be convicted of first-degree murder unless it is proven that they set out to kill or knew their actions would likely turn fatal, his attorneys say.

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Allen chose to go to trial instead of accepting the plea bargain offered to him and his codefendant, Rolando Perry, court records show. Perry, who killed the victim, accepted the plea deal and was paroled in 2009, according to court filings.

Allen previously requested commutation under former governor Deval Patrick but was not granted a hearing, according to his attorneys. He filed again under Governor Charlie Baker in 2017, asking that his sentence be revised to allow for the possibility of parole, documents show.

Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic led to many infections behind bars, Allen asked that his sentence be commuted to the time he had served, citing medical conditions that include lupus, asthma, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and a history of liver disease, according to court records.

His attorneys said Allen, who is Black, is an example of the injustices that people of color often experience in the criminal court system, an issue brought to increased public attention by last year’s global Black Lives Matter protests.

“We’re very excited about the prospects of being able to present William and all he’s accomplished,” Cordy said. “Not only for himself — becoming trained in various skills — but working with other prisoners, and particularly those that have mental illness problems.”

While behind bars, Allen has earned a master barber’s license, become a Eucharistic minister and a volunteer in the Catholic community, and been selected to work in the Bridgewater State Hospital Companion Program, “where, until the pandemic, he spent his days with a patient with severe mental illness, providing friendship, companionship, and assistance with meals, personal care, and hygiene,” according to court documents.

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Allen has had no disciplinary reports filed since 2004, and the Department of Correction has determined that he is a low risk for violence or recidivism, his attorneys wrote.

If released, he will live with his family in Brockton, where many in the community have come together to support the commutation of his sentence, McDonald said.

Allen’s hearing will be only the second of its kind since 2014.

In January, the state Advisory Board of Pardons unanimously urged Baker to commute the life sentence of Thomas E. Koonce, who has spent 28 years in prison for the 1987 killing of a New Bedford man.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.