Archdiocese Joins Call for Prison Reform

By Robin Washington and Eric Convey
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
August 29, 2003

An inmates' rights group yesterday blasted the state system for conditions leading to the murder of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, while the Archdiocese of Boston joined the call for prison reform in an editorial in its official publication.

Leslie Walker, the executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services who met with Geoghan during his incarceration, said she is concerned the three-person investigative panel made up of a state trooper, a correction officer and a private correction consultant could "whitewash" the results.

"We do not want to be here again next summer - or sooner - with another beating that causes serious bodily injury or death," she said. "We will not accept the daily assaults that occur between prisoners that are either encouraged or condoned by officials."

An editorial in today's Pilot offered prayers for the ex-priest's victims while calling for a thorough investigation.

"The fact that Geoghan was the quintessential priest child molester in a very heated media environment should have prompted a more careful approach to his custody," the editorial states. "The facts show mismanagement in the prison system that must be investigated and corrected."

Walker said Geoghan's mistreatment by guards in MCI-Concord's protective custody wing - including charges some defecated in his cell - led the former priest to welcome his transfer to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, where he was allegedly strangled Saturday by fellow inmate Joseph L. Druce. David Shaw, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, said, "The charges . . . are obviously very serious. They get right to the heart of the policies and procedures at the DOC.

"The investigation that we've embarked on is looking not only at the facts specific to the Geoghan case, but also to the overall picture of our policies and procedures at the department."

Walker said she has spoken to Catherine Geoghan, the late ex-priest's sister, but is unaware if the family will be pursuing a lawsuit.

Walker and her two MCLS colleagues, Peter Costanza and James Pingeon, offered praise to the correction officer on duty at the time of the attack for his attempt to open Geoghan's jammed cell door.

"He made a valiant effort to get that door open," Costanza said, adding the guard may have injured his arm in the process.

The lawyers' details of the murder come largely from their interviews with other prisoners, particularly Robert Assad, 26, a Westport DJ serving a sentence for arson. Though one source said Assad tells the truth "about 10 percent of the time," Costanza said he can usually distinguish between his fact and fancy.

"Generally speaking, I've found the information he has provided to be pretty good," Constanza said.

He discounted, however, a contention by Assad that another prisoner "with lots of money" had offered to pay Druce to kill Geoghan.

Reached at his home, Ronald Assad, who adopted Robert when he was a boy, said his son's story "could be true."

"There is a good side to Bobby. I've seen it," he said. "I just hope he doesn't get in trouble. I hope he doesn't get hurt."

Maggie Mulvihill and Dave Wedge contributed to this report.

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