New Bedford Murderer Paroled After 30 Years Behind Bars
BOSTON — A man whose life sentence for a 1987 New Bedford murder was commuted by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year will be released after 30 years in prison.
The state's parole board made the decision to grant former Brockton resident Thomas Koonce, 54, parole on Tuesday.
The decision came after a public commutation hearing and a closed parole hearing last month.
Koonce has spent the past three decades behind bars for fatally shooting 24-year-old New Bedford resident Mark Santos while on leave from the Marine Corps.
Santos' murder took place in July 1987, during a confrontation between young adults from Brockton and New Bedford, when Koonce pointed a gun at the other youths from a vehicle.
He fired the weapon, and Santos was killed.
Koonce was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole on first degree murder charges — but earlier this year his conviction was commuted to second degree murder, making him eligible for parole.
While in prison, Koonce mentored and helped other inmates, many of whom spoke at his hearings about how he changed their lives for the better.
He also initiated a restorative justice program and earned a bachelor's degree.
In its decision, the parole board wrote that Koonce "has taken extraordinary steps to improve himself and the lives of other incarcerated individuals," adding that "much of his rehabilitative work occurred prior to any opportunity for parole."
The board voted unanimously in favor of paroling Koonce.
He will spend four months at a Boston Community Resources for Justice house before his release, and will be subject to a curfew, electronic monitoring, and drug testing.