Man convicted for 1987 murder, recommended for governor’s commutation

BOSTON — Thomas Koonce, a 61-year-old and a former US Marine, may soon become the first inmate to earn a governor’s commutation in years.

This week the state Advisory Board of Pardons unanimously recommended that Koonce’s First Degree Murder conviction be reduced to Second Degree Murder, making him eligible for parole.

Koonce has served nearly 30 years in prison. He was convicted in 1992 for the 1987 murder of Mark Santos of New Bedford.

Prosecutors say Koonce shot at a crowd of people during a disturbance between two groups, and that the fatal shot hit Santos.

Koonce and Santos did not know each other.

At the time of the fatal shooting, Thomas Koonce was in the U. S. Marine Corps and was home on leave.

At a hearing in October, Koonce apologized to the family of Mark Santos, and he detailed the programs he took to rehabilitate himself.

The family of Mark Santos, including his mother, spoke in opposition of Thomas Koonce at the October hearing.

But Bristol County DA Thomas Quinn, among others, expressed support for Koonce at that hearing.

In a statement to Boston 25 News, DA Quinn said, in part, “The defendant presented exceptional circumstances that warranted allowing his commutation petition…. If the governor allows the petition, I hope he makes the most of this second chance.”

Governor’s commutations are very rare in Massachusetts.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s press secretary told me in a statement that the State Pardon’s Board recommendation has been received, and the Governor is reviewing it.

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