Inmate's Lawyer to Argue Insanity in Geoghan Killing
By Maria Cramer
January 9, 2006
The lawyer for Joseph L. Druce, charged with killing a former priest who was being held for pedophile acts, said yesterday that he hopes to convince jurors that Druce was insane when he allegedly choked and beat the priest, a convicted pedophile, to death in a state prison two years ago.
Druce's trial is scheduled to start today with jury selection in Worcester Superior Court. Druce is accused in the August 2003 killing of John Geoghan, the former priest. Geoghan was serving a 9- to-10-year sentence for having groped a 10-year-old boy.
The two men were placed in the same protective custody unit at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, where Druce, who was serving a life sentence for another murder, allegedly strangled Geoghan and then is reported to have stomped on his body.
"We believe that he has a major mental illness that prevented him from being able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law," Druce's lawyer, John H. LaChance of Framingham, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The Worcester district attorney, John J. Conte, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Prosecutors have charged Druce with first-degree murder and have said he carefully plotted to kill Geoghan. LaChance has said his client's public outbursts during a pretrial hearing showed his explosive mental state.
The Cape and Islands district attorney, Michael O'Keefe, said that it is generally difficult to convince a jury to acquit accused murderers on the basis of insanity.
"Those people who commit an offense while meeting the legal test of insanity, theoretically, should be acquitted of the offense," he said. "But they should also be put in a position where they are no longer a threat of society . . . Unfortunately, people do not trust that judges will keep them locked up."
LaChance acknowledged the challenge of obtaining an acquittal by reason of insanity but said he is confident the jury will be swayed by Druce's past as an abuse victim.
Druce sent a letter to The Boston Globe last week outlining a plan that the Department of Correction punish imprisoned sex offenders who engage in "lewd and lascivious conversations regarding their sexual activities, past, present, and future."
"This policy should be mandated in order to prevent sex offenders from sharing their 'sick' experiences . . . and to stop their planning future rapes, molestations and the like on innocent men, women and children," Druce wrote in his the three-page proposal sent to the Globe.
Diane Wiffin, a Department of Correction spokeswoman, declined to say yesterday in a telephone interview whether the agency would consider adopting the idea.
"We're not going to comment on anything he might have to say," she said.
LaChance said that he had not seen Druce's letter, but that he believed it was related to his client's allegations that he had overheard Geoghan talking about his experiences as a sex offender.
"What it does is it goes back to some evidence that will be introduced that Geoghan was talking with others about his sexual conduct and what he was going to do when he got out," LaChance said.
LaChance said he plans to introduce witnesses, including prisoners, guards, and a psychiatrist, who will testify about the circumstances of Geoghan's death and Druce's state of mind.
"I think that once they've heard the story of his life basically, the history of abuse, . . . that the background for the whole thing will substantiate the mental illness that he has," he said.
LaChance declined to elaborate on the abuse Druce allegedly suffered. But Druce has disclosed many details about the alleged abuse on his website, which features pictures of himself as a child and as an adult and pointers on how to recognize potential child abusers.
Druce was convicted of killing a man in 1989 and was imprisoned at maximum-security Souza-Baranowski. In April 2003, Geoghan was transferred from medium-security Concord State prison to Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, which is part of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Shirley.
On Aug. 23, 2003, Druce allegedly followed Geoghan into his cell, jammed the door shut, then killed him. The death sparked calls for a sweeping review of state prisons, including an examination of assignments.
The department now reviews prisoner assignments carefully and has developed guidelines for placing prisoners in protective custody, Wiffin said.
"This is an agency in reform," she said.
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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