'Redemption and mercy': Why so many people fought for Brockton man's freedom

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BROCKTON – William Allen has been in prison for 27 years. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at just 21 years old.

Now, at age 48, thanks to the efforts of his lawyers, his father, Brockton Interfaith Community, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and the many others who worked on his behalf, he might finally be able to come home.

Allen was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the murder and robbery of Purvis Bester, after a jury found him guilty of being a joint venturer.

Allen admitted to participating in the armed robbery before the murder, but wasn't the killer. Even so, because of the way a joint venturer was charged at the time, it automatically came with a first-degree murder charge and sentence.

Thurston Allen, father of William Allen, elbow-bumps New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty after the news conference calling for commutation of William Allen’s life sentence in prison on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, outside the Christ Congregational Church in Brockton.
Thurston Allen, father of William Allen, elbow-bumps New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty after the news conference calling for commutation of William Allen’s life sentence in prison on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, outside the Christ Congregational Church in Brockton.

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Gov. Charlie Baker commuted Allen's sentence. The commutation still has to be approved by the Governor's Council, but if approved, he can apply for parole. If granted, he'd be on parole for life, and able to leave prison for the first time in almost 30 years.

The commutation comes after a year-long campaign by Brockton Interfaith Community's Second-Chance Justice Campaign to get his sentence commuted. Faith Tobon, the coordinator for the campaign, said they started working on Allen's case in September 2020 after a friend of hers reached out to see if they could help Allen.

Law has changed since Allen was sentenced

Tobon learned about Allen's case, about how he had been only 19 when he was involved in the robbery, that he had no previous serious criminal record, and that the person who had actually committed the murder associated with Allen's case got out of prison on parole a decade ago.

William Allen, of Brockton, center bottom, is pictured in this undated photo with his sister Dionne Allen, left, and father Thurston Allen. William Allen was 20 in 1994 when he was arrested in connection with a Brockton murder.
William Allen, of Brockton, center bottom, is pictured in this undated photo with his sister Dionne Allen, left, and father Thurston Allen. William Allen was 20 in 1994 when he was arrested in connection with a Brockton murder.

It was also notable to her that the law was changed significantly by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2017. If he had been tried now, he would not have been charged or sentenced the way he was.

'Seeking out opportunities to be able to do good'

Tobon also learned of Allen's history of growth and giving back during his time in prison.

"Pretty early on in his journey, he started the process of self improvement, not only taking part in any and every opportunity that was available that the prison gave him to get better educated or learn skills, but then as he got older, he started actually seeking out opportunities to be able to do good," she said.

Second-Chance Justice Campaign member Faith Tobon, of Brockton, closes out the press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church urging those interested to look up William Allen’s story and their campaign.
Second-Chance Justice Campaign member Faith Tobon, of Brockton, closes out the press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church urging those interested to look up William Allen’s story and their campaign.

In prison, she said, Allen has participated in significant programming – among them restorative justice and violence alternatives – as both a student and a facilitator. He also earned vocational licenses to be a barber, food service worker and law clerk, and has consistently kept a job for decades.

Allen also got very involved with the Catholic church, serving as a Eucharistic minister for the Catholic community and encouraging other inmates to go to church.

But probably the most important program Allen took part in is the Companion Program, in which prisoners from Old Colony Correctional Center apply to be companions for mentally ill patients at the prison at Bridgewater State Hospital. Tobon said the program is very difficult to get into, and that it's very rare that lifers get in, but Allen did.

Tobon said meeting Allen made her want to help him even more.

"There's something about William himself – his personality, his desire to make himself a better person, to help others even though he never thought he'd get out of prison," she said.

"Clearly he was a good man who made a mistake – who made a horrible mistake. Those of us who have gotten involved in the campaign, we want to live in a world where we can make a mistake, even a bad one, but still find redemption and find mercy and still do good in the world."

Patriots' Devin McCourty inspired by Allen's attitude

Patriots safety Devin McCourty described a similar experience getting involved with the campaign.

"As soon as I heard the story ... I just knew right there I wanted to be a part of it," he said.

New England Patriots player Devin McCourty reads a letter he wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker about the time he has spent with William Allen, of Brockton, and why he believes Allen deserves commutation of his sentence.
New England Patriots player Devin McCourty reads a letter he wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker about the time he has spent with William Allen, of Brockton, and why he believes Allen deserves commutation of his sentence.

McCourty later got a chance to speak to Allen over Zoom, and found him inspiring.

"I think the biggest thing was how he saw his life moving forward. He didn't see it only moving forward if he was released," McCourty said.

"He just said 'No matter where I'm at, I'm gonna help people out, whether at Bridgewater State or ... being able to help young kids not making the same mistake I made. No matter what, I know my purpose, and that's not going to change'."

'I saw a light in him': Patriots' Devin McCourty supports Brockton man's commutation

A team effort

About a year ago, the campaign held its first public event calling for Allen to get a commutation hearing. They then spent about six months educating people all around the state about Allen's story and about why people push for clemency.

The campaign also started a letter writing campaign – with more than 2,000 people sending letter to the governor calling for Allen's sentence to be commuted.

The activists with Second Chance Justice standing on the steps in front of the Massachusetts State House, holding letters urging Gov. Baker to grant clemency to William Allen on September 20, 2021
The activists with Second Chance Justice standing on the steps in front of the Massachusetts State House, holding letters urging Gov. Baker to grant clemency to William Allen on September 20, 2021

Allen's story was so compelling that all the Patriots ended up getting involved. McCourty said that after he told them about Allen, they all wanted to help. So together, all the players and all the coaches wrote and signed a letter from each group to the governor asking for Allen's commutation.

"A guy that's sitting in prison 27 years on a life sentence has a connection with the New England Patriots. Who would have ever thought?" he said. "To me it was just a great honor to be involved."

The power of mercy

In October, the campaign held a public event followed by a rally at the Statehouse the next month. In December, they wanted to do one last push to put pressure on Baker to commute Allen's sentence, so they asked Allen if he wanted to do a rally or more letter-writing.

Instead, Allen asked them to raise money for families with incarcerated family members. Tobon said the campaign raised $15,000 in a week, and was able to give gift cards to 27 Brockton families to help with expenses.

Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC) Executive Director William Dickerson II speaks at a news conference outside the Christ Congregational Church in Brockton and gives an update on efforts for commutation for William Allen on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.
Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC) Executive Director William Dickerson II speaks at a news conference outside the Christ Congregational Church in Brockton and gives an update on efforts for commutation for William Allen on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Tobon said the campaign and its victory was a community effort.

"The big takeaway for us as a group is that we learned that there's a desire in the Massachusetts community to focus on these issues of mercy, to learn more about them, and to see mercy highlighted in our criminal justice system," she said.

'Cried out for a remedy'

The campaign seems to have made a big difference for Allen's case. Kristine McDonald, who has represented Allen with her law partner Allan Tusankjian since 2006, said they had tried pretty much every legal avenue available to them to help Allen, but to no avail.

"We had this young man in his early 30s who was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for participating in an armed robbery...but who was serving a murder sentence and had not actually killed anyone," she said. "It just was so striking to us that it felt like a situation that really cried out for attention and for a remedy."

One of William Allen's lawyers, Kris McDonald, speaks about some of the complexities of Allen’s case during a press conference at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2021, to announce the Second-Chance Justice Campaign on his behalf.
One of William Allen's lawyers, Kris McDonald, speaks about some of the complexities of Allen’s case during a press conference at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2021, to announce the Second-Chance Justice Campaign on his behalf.

By 2014, she said, they realized that a commutation from the governor was the only solution still available to Allen. They applied for commutation while Gov. Deval Patrick was in office, only for him to leave before they could get a hearing. So in 2017, they applied with Baker.

Victim's daughter forgives Allen

Though the commutation still had to go through the Governor's Council, McDonald said she's optimistic about the rest of the process.

One reason is because the family of the victim supports his commutation. Purvis Bester's daughter stated publicly at Allen's commutation hearing that she forgives Allen, supports the commutation, and even believes that Brockton needs him, McDonald said. Bestor's sister also wrote to the Advisory Board of Pardons to say the same.

Also notable is that Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz also testified in favor of Allen's commutation – something McDonald said is extremely rare.

A father's love

But while Brockton Community Interfaith, Allen's lawyers, Devin McCourty and the Patriots are all celebrating a big victory, there is perhaps no one happier about Allen's commutation than his father, Thurston Allen.

Thurston is a 67-year-old Brockton resident who has worried about his son in prison for almost 30 years now. When he found out his son's sentence had been commuted, he said he was elated.

"It seemed like a big burden just fell off me," he said. "It was the happiest day I had in a long time."

Thurston Allen, father of William Allen, attended the press conference at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church where the Second Chance Justice Campaign for William Allen was announced on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.
Thurston Allen, father of William Allen, attended the press conference at the Pearl Street United Methodist Church where the Second Chance Justice Campaign for William Allen was announced on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

It's been a long couple of decades for the Allens. Thurston said he and his son have always been close.

"I just kept my head up because I knew one day something good was gonna come for him because he don't deserve to be there. ... I know his potentials in life, and he had a lot of goals in life, he just got swayed back," he said.

"But I've been keeping my head up because if I keep my head up it means he's keeping his up."

Still, Thurston is proud of how much his son has bettered himself in prison. He said his son has always been like that.

"He is a great man. I think he's gonna be a better man than me," he said of his son.

Now, he's just happy that his son might be able to leave prison and move on with his life and helping others.

"I think that from this point on, everything's going up for him," he said of his son. "That's what I believe. Everything's going to go up. Not even sideways. Up."

Enterprise staff writer Susannah Sudborough can be reached by email at ssudborough@enterprisenews.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @k_sudborough. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.

This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Brockton William Allen: Devin McCourty, others fought for commutation

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