BOSTON (WWLP) – Retired Department of Corrections Chaplain Peg Newman just has one request of Gov. Charlie Baker — change the world for one man, William Allen, who has spent the past 27 years in prison after participating in an armed robbery in which a person was killed.
Newman, who worked closely with Allen for many years as his chaplain in prison, joined New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and other faith and community groups outside the State House Monday morning to call on Baker to commute Allen’s sentence. Attendees brought over 800 letters in support of Allen’s commutation that they delivered to the governor’s office.
“Will volunteered to join our companion program. He worked selflessly with the patients who had the greatest needs,” Newman said. “William changed the world for many men and he has continued this mission since his transfer to Old Colony [Correctional Center]. Will’s wisdom, his generosity, his integrity, and his sense of humor made him an extraordinary companion.”
Allen was convicted in 1997 of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury found he had participated in a 1994 armed robbery in Brockton where another man stabbed and killed Purvis Bester, organizers said. Rolando Perry, the man who killed Bester, was released on parole over a decade ago.
Allen, 20 years old at the time of the crime, was charged with felony-murder as a joint venture, something that could “likely no longer be charged today because of a 2017 decision by” the Supreme Judicial Court, a press release from the Brockton Interfaith Community said.
The Advisory Board of Pardons last Thursday recommended Baker commute Allen’s felony murder to second-degree murder, a move that would make him eligible for release. The board held a hearing in June, only the second such meeting in the state since in 2014.
“[He] does not belong there. Not now. Not anymore. It’s been 27 years,” said Deb Fencer, a member of the Brockton Interfaith Community. “We are here to get Gov. Baker’s attention. He has the power of executive clemency. Clemency is in his hands alone.”
If Baker were to commute the sentence, it would be the first time he has done so as governor and only the second time a Massachusetts governor has ordered a commutation since 1997.
During a Monday afternoon press conference, Baker said the board’s paperwork and rationale will head to his legal office who will then have a conversation with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and the governor.
“Anything that involves a decision like that is going to go through our legal office,” Baker said when asked what his thoughts were on the board’s recommendation.
Advocates pushing for the commutation of Allen’s sentence point to Baker’s own guidelines on executive clemency, commutations, and pardons he released in February 2020 where he writes that “the governor commutation both as an extraordinary remedy and as an integral part of the correctional process.”
“It is intended to serve as a strong motivation for confined persons to utilize available resources for self-development and self-improvement and as an incentive for them to become law-abiding citizens and return to society,” the guidelines read.
McCourty also wrote a letter to Baker, “not to tell you what to do, but to be a resource as you gather information about William Allen and his case of commutation.” The Patriots star first met Allen and learned of his case during the 2020 NFL season.
At that time, McCourty said he thought he could help, but 2020 was a rough year for him both on and off the field. He said his “purpose and foundation took a shot, a really big shot actually.”
“We experienced an uncharacteristically tough football season and my wife Michelle and I gave birth and lost our third child … on May 24, 2020. That day was the hardest day of my life,” he said at the press conference. He met Allen in April 2020 and talked with him for over an hour.
“What he talked about with me was a hope and a dream, to have an opportunity to steer young people away from making the same mistakes he had made. He wants to be a difference maker in the lives of others,” McCourty said. “That first call with William, and I’ve talked to him since, resonated so strongly with me I remember even the smallest details of the call.”
Unlike pardons, commutations do not grant forgiveness for an underlying crime, rather “it simply means that the period of incarceration served for the offense has been reduced,” according to the state.
A person must first submit a petition to the board which, after a review and investigation, determines if it warrants a hearing. If a hearing is held, the board looks for people who will be a law-abiding citizen and presents no risk of re-offense. The board then offers a recommendation to the governor and if the governor recommends a commutation it would need the consent of the eight-member, elected Governor’s Council.
Newman said Allen is a man “with deep faith,” a leader in their church community for many years, and spent Sunday afternoons leading communion service for elderly, mentally ill men with health problems. He never once missed a Sunday, Newman said, even as his friends were back in their unit watching sports.
“Confirming his extensive skills and experience, Will recently completed a course and passed a national exam for certification to work with people with special needs,” Newman said. “Gov. Baker, I am asking you to do all that you can to speed up the process and grant Will Allen clemency, commuting his sentence to time served.”