DA Quinn Testifies in Support of Commutation

Bristol County District Attorney’s Office
Thomas M. Quinn III
District Attorney

Press Release
January 26, 2022

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III today testified before the Governor’s Council  in support of Gov. Baker’s decision to commute the sentence of Thomas Koonce, who was convicted in 1992 of the first degree murder of 24-year-old Mark Santos in New Bedford.

The potential commutation would reduce Mr. Koonce’s conviction from first degree murder to second degree murder, making him parole eligible.

District Attorney Quinn’s testimony was as follows:

On July 20, 1987, Thomas Koonce, age 20, unlawfully took the life of Mark Santos, while on leave from the Marine Corp.

The victim, Mark Santos was 24 years old and had his whole life ahead of him.  He was loved by his family and friends and had great potential.

Today, almost 35 years later they are still grieving the loss of their loved one. That grief will go on for the rest of their lives.  There is no consolation for their loss other than their memories of Mark.  As Councilor Kennedy stated, we should not lose sight of this great loss for the family.  My heartfelt sympathy and prayers continue to be with the Santos family.  They are a remarkable family with extraordinary perseverance.

Understandably, they are opposed to the commutation.  The opportunity for Mr. Koonce to be paroled is very painful for them. My sympathy and prayers continue to be with the Santos family.

As you know from the record, Mr. Koonce’s first trial ended in a hung jury.  He was convicted of 1st degree murder after a second trial in June 1992.

The prosecutor in that case was John Moses, a former colleague of mine when I was a young prosecutor.

In 2010 Mr. Koonce filed his first commutation petition.

Mr. Moses testified at the 2010 hearing in support of the petition.  He said that he was troubled by the 1st degree conviction.  In his closing argument in 1992 he only argued that the jury should convict Mr. Koonce of 2nd degree murder.  He expressed concern over the 1st degree conviction based on the facts and circumstances of the case. Mr. Moses was both a public defender and a prosecutor during his career and a respected attorney.  He passed away in May 2015.

Despite the denial of his 2010 petition, Mr. Koonce continued to engage in very meaningful rehabilitative efforts. He obtained his degree from Boston University.

He became a leader in restorative justice in the institution.

He also has been a mentor for many inmates during his incarceration.

Of significance, is that his rehabilitative efforts were done while he believed he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In 2014 he filed a second petition for commutation.

Based on the record, he has made a very compelling case for commutation.

As part of his rehabilitative efforts he wrote a letter of apology to the family taking responsibility for the killing of Mark Santos.

He appears to understand more clearly than he did in 2010 the gravity of his actions and the irreparable harm he has caused the family of Mark Santos.

Based on all the facts and circumstances of this case, the defendant’s petition to commute the sentence to 2nd degree murder is a just result.

Commuting his sentence does not minimize his actions, but acknowledges the extraordinary efforts he made to reform his life.

For him to serve the rest of his life in prison without any opportunity for parole would not be fair or just under all of the circumstances of this case.

The commutation before you appropriately preserves the murder conviction.  It only reduces the murder conviction from 1st degree to 2nd degree murder.  Mr. Koonce has served approximately 30 years in prison.  Commutation would make his sentence 30 years to life with the possibility of parole.

The Governor did the right thing in commuting the sentence to 2nd degree murder.  It is a just and appropriate result.  I would ask you to vote in support of the commutation.


Gregg Miliote

Director of Communications