Geoghan's Death Means Abuse Victims Could Sue Prison for Wrongful Death

Providence Journal [Boston MA]
Downloaded October 26, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - Former priest John Geoghan's slaying prison could present his sexual assault victims a chance for financial compensation, something Geoghan couldn't provide when he was alive, some legal specialists said.

If Geoghan's relatives don't sue the state prison system for wrongful death after another inmate allegedly strangled him, Geoghan's victims could do so as potential creditors.

The only catch is they would have to prove their tormentor was himself a victim of abuse by prison personnel.

"I don't know if we've seen a case quite like this one before," lawyer Charles A. Rosebrock, a specialist in trusts and estates, told The Boston Globe. "It's an ironic situation where you have very divergent interests."

Geoghan, who was 68 when he died in August, was accused of molesting more than 130 children over three decades. The Archdiocese of Boston paid $10 million last year to settle the legal claims of 86 plaintiffs who sued the church over Geoghan's alleged abuse. Many of them also sued Geoghan individually, but never pressed for a judgment because he had no money.

In 1995, just months after state prosecutors started investigating child molestation allegations, Geoghan sold his half-ownership in two family homes to a trust controlled by his sister for $1 each, records show.

Probate court officials in Suffolk and Plymouth counties, where Geoghan's two family homes are located, said there were no filings such as registration of a will or an executor of estate in Geoghan's name.

Geoghan's sister, Catherine T. Geoghan, did not return telephone messages left by the Globe.

Under state law, if no relative steps forward within 30 days of death, other interested parties, including creditors, can petition the court to name an executor for the estate, said Peter E. Bernardin, a Danvers attorney who specializes in probate law.

As potential beneficiaries of Geoghan's estate, his victims could then ask a judge to force the executor to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, legal specialists said.

Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who represented the 86 alleged victims and relatives who settled with the Archdiocese for $10 million last year, said he is talking with his clients about it.

"It's definitely something we're considering, something we're looking into," Garabedian said.


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