Geoghan's Alleged Killer to Go to Trial in Worcester
By Denise Lavoie
January 7, 2006
BOSTON --When convicted pedophile priest John Geoghan was beaten and strangled in his prison cell, authorities had plenty of evidence against the man charged in his killing.
Prison officials said they found inmate Joseph Druce inside Geoghan's cell, with the door jammed shut so no one could enter. A defiant Druce allegedly bragged openly about killing "the child molester" and told investigators he did it to "save the children."
With Druce's trial scheduled to begin Monday, the question for the jury won't be whether Druce killed Geoghan, but whether he should be held criminally responsible. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in Worcester Superior Court.
Druce's lawyer, John LaChance, plans to use an insanity defense. He argued during pretrial hearings that Druce was suffering from a "major mental illness."
A convicted murderer who is already serving a life sentence, Druce has been hospitalized at least twice for ingesting foreign objects. In September 2003, just two weeks after Geoghan was killed, Druce swallowed pieces of a pencil in his prison cell. Three months ago, Druce swallowed a piece of television cable and a piece of his eyeglasses.
Several pretrial hearings have featured Druce loudly complaining about his treatment in prison and what he has described as retaliation against him by corrections officers. During one hearing, Druce wrote "DRUCEGATE" on an envelope and propped it up for reporters to see.
Druce, 40, unsuccessfully used an insanity defense during his 1989 trial for the killing of a man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking Druce up hitchhiking.
According to psychiatric testimony at that trial, Druce was a troubled child who had violent fantasies. Records introduced during the trial showed he took the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine and the hyperactivity treatment Ritalin as a teenager.
After Druce was charged in Geoghan's killing, authorities said he hated homosexuals. He also claimed he had been sexually abused as a child and killed Geoghan to make sure he did not molest any more children.
But defense attorneys who have used the insanity defense said no matter how much psychiatric evidence Druce's lawyer may be able to produce, it may not be enough to convince the jury to acquit him based on an insanity defense.
"It's extremely difficult," said Boston attorney Joseph Balliro Sr., who argued unsuccessfully that Dr. Richard Sharpe, a cross-dressing dermatologist, was insane when he fatally shot his wife with a hunting rifle in July 2000.
"Inherent in a defense of insanity is that your client committed the crime. The second thing you're going up against is that you need (psychiatric) experts, and in criminal cases, juries have the perception -- whether it's accurate or not -- that those are just hired guns," Balliro said.
In Massachusetts, juries are given a mandatory instruction by the judge that if they find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, he will be sent to a prison psychiatric hospital, where he will be re-evaluated on an annual basis and could later be released.
"Jurors are afraid that if they acquit by reason of insanity in a murder case, that they bear responsibility if he commits another homicide because they are not confident he will be held (permanently) in a maximum-security hospital," said J.W. Carney Jr., who used an insanity defense unsuccessfully in the case of John C. Salvi III, who killed two people and wounded five others at two Brookline abortion clinics in 1994.
Balliro, however, said Druce could engender some sympathy from the jury because of Geoghan's notoriety.
Geoghan's case sparked the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in Boston in 2002 when records were released showing that Cardinal Bernard Law and other church higher-ups had shuffled him and dozens of other priests from parish to parish despite allegations they were sexually abusing children.
Geoghan, 68, was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for groping a 10-year-old boy and was accused in civil lawsuits of molesting nearly 150 boys over three decades. He was killed at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley on Aug. 23, 2003.
"This case may be an exception because you could get a jury who says who the hell cares who killed this guy?" Balliro said. "He ruined the lives of hundreds of kids."
Worcester District Attorney John Conte said after the slaying that Druce told investigators he planned the killing for more than a month. Druce is accused of jamming Geoghan's cell door shut with a book, then tying him up with a T-shirt and strangling him with socks.
Conte and Druce's lawyer did not return calls seeking comment before the trial.
Geoghan's slaying sparked sharp criticism of a prison system that allowed a high-profile pedophile priest such as the 68-year-old Geoghan to be housed in the same protective custody unit as Druce, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.
Some inmate advocates say the trial may be as much about mistakes made by the Department of Correction as it is about Druce.
"It was a highly preventable death, and I think the corrections department is indictable in the court of public opinion," said Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which advocates for inmates' rights.
After Geoghan's death, panels investigating the slaying found serious failures in the inmate classification system, disciplinary procedures and internal investigative practices of the Department of Correction.
Since then, the department has made significant changes to its inmate grievance system, employee disciplinary process and inmate classifications, said Deputy Commissioner James Bender.
"We have completely overhauled how we do business," he said.
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