Local Lawyer Represents High Profile Clients
By Timother R. Homan
MetroWest Daily News
February 6, 2006
FRAMINGHAM -- Defending a client in a high-profile murder case can be challenging enough. Add in a distrustful, paranoid defendant who insists on taking copious notes during all facets of the case and that only complicates matters.
Framingham criminal defense attorney John LaChance had to deal with just that when he represented Joseph Druce, who plead insanity for the Aug. 23, 2003, first-degree murder of defrocked pedophile priest, and fellow prison inmate, John Geoghan, 68. Druce was found guilty Jan. 25.
Both men were inmates at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Druce, 40, was serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of a hitchhiker.
"Difficult clients are the ones that need a lawyer the most because it's easy to ignore them and shove them off," LaChance said during an interview at his law office in Framingham.
Some of Druce's habits, however, ensured neither he nor any aspect of his case would be overlooked. "He took notes at every conference that we had," said LaChance. "He was extremely obsessive."
LaChance explained how the nature of Druce's mental illness -- a combination of attention deficit, intermittent explosive and dissociative disorders -- was a double-edged sword.
Druce had the capacity to remember detailed dates, times, places and names, LaChance said, but his paranoia also made it difficult to discuss some of those recollections, in addition to building up trust in his court-appointed attorney.
"It's my opinion that he never completely trusted me anyway," LaChance said.
When LaChance first met him in prison, Druce believed the attorney-client phones were tapped, according to LaChance, and he offered little information for several months.
"It became very difficult to even get to know him under those circumstances," LaChance said.
Even if Druce had been forthcoming during those discussions and his eventual trial testimony, the impact on the verdict would have been minimal, according to criminal defense specialists.
"The insanity defense isn't won or lost by the defendant's testimony but by the (psychiatrists' testimony)," said Ira Robbins, professor of criminal law at American University's Washington College of Law.
He added that the insanity plea is successful about 1 percent of the time. That amounts to around 200 acquittals in the thousands of cases prosecuted each year.
Entering a plea of insanity is familiar territory to LaChance. He said he has tried about eight such cases in the past with varying results. But certain aspects of Druce's personality were new territory for him.
"He began to live his life in fantasies," said LaChance, noting that these alternate lives stemmed from being on the receiving end of physical and sexual abuse, which began in childhood and continued through his teens.
One fantasy, according to LaChance, consisted of Druce rescuing two Saudi princes and receiving millions of dollars as a reward. Another involved Druce getting out of jail, becoming a business mogul and then designing ships and mansions.
"He wrote all this down," LaChance said.
These fantasies eventually manifested themselves into the murder of Geoghan, who was accused of molesting 150 boys.
"He believed he was the chosen one to stop pedophilia," said LaChance, adding that, "From the very beginning, (Druce) was adamant about explaining why he killed Geoghan."
Court regulations prevent LaChance from representing Druce during the automatic appeal process, but the Framingham attorney said he is still advocating on Druce's behalf.
LaChance said that after the trial he wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Correction requesting they transfer Druce to an out-of-state prison for his protection. During his testimony, Druce criticized certain DOC employees, in addition to acknowledging he was an informant for the state while incarcerated.
"He doesn't feel safe from inmates," LaChance said. "It's kind of ironic given the circumstances of the case."
LaChance said he expects to remain in contact with Druce, who writes him three to five letters a week, for the next 10 years.
"I feel some obligation to keep in touch with him so long as he wants to keep in touch with me."
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