High Court Upholds Murder Conviction

By Julie Manganis
The Salem News
April 28, 2009

BEVERLY The state's highest court has upheld the conviction of former North Shore resident Joseph Druce in the 2003 murder of a former priest convicted of sexual abuse.

Druce, 43, who used to be known as Darrin Smiledge, was already serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of George Rollo of Gloucester when he killed defrocked priest John Geoghan inside the maximum-security state prison in Shirley.

Yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction in the Geoghan murder, finding that despite a history of mental illness, Druce was capable of understanding and participating in his trial.

That was among a number of issues raised by Druce in his appeal although he later wrote a letter insisting that the court not issue a ruling suggesting that he suffered from mental illness.

He also contended that his original lawyer was ineffective, that his confession should have been tossed out as evidence because he was mentally ill and incapable of waiving his Miranda rights, that his trial was unfair because he was deprived of medications and sleep by prison officials and because of extensive pretrial publicity about the case.

Druce had also tried unsuccessfully to use a so-called insanity defense during his trial in the Rollo killing. In that case, he also claimed that Rollo had made sexual advances toward him, triggering memories of sexual abuse in his early teens.

During Druce's trial, his expert witness, Dr. Keith Ablow, described Druce as suffering from several mental illnesses, including severe attention deficit disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, a personality disorder with elements of paranoia, antisocial personality disorder and a dissociative disorder.

Ablow concluded that Druce lacked capacity to tell right from wrong and to conform his conduct to the law, the legal standard to find someone not guilty by reason of insanity.

Experts for the prosecution disagreed, testifying that Druce suffered from a personality disorder characterized by lack of concern for others, manipulation, deceit and making excuses for his own actions by blaming the victims.

Dr. Martin Kelly testified that Druce clearly knew that killing Geoghan was wrong, noting that he chose the victim and spent five weeks planning the murder. Druce then boasted about what he'd done, portraying himself as a hero who "did it for the kids."

In a brief filed by his appellate lawyer, Druce asked the Supreme Judicial Court to use its power to find Druce not guilty by reason of insanity, reduce the conviction to manslaughter or order a new trial. Druce later sent the court a motion he'd drafted himself claiming he was "duped" by his original lawyer into pursuing an insanity defense, "that made the defendant the sole scapegoat when others are involved."

Druce "does not want any such relief that would suggest in any way, shape or form that he is suffering from a mental defect," his current lawyer wrote.

The court, however, saw no reason to reverse the jury's verdict.

"Here, the commonwealth and the defense called their own experts who presented their opinions concerning the defendant's state of mind at the time of the killing, and who were thoroughly cross-examined," Justice Roderick Ireland wrote in the court's decision. "The jury were warranted in rejecting the defense of lack of criminal responsibility."

Druce grew up around the North Shore and Cape Ann, living in Gloucester and Salem as a child and then spending several years at the Lakeside School, a facility for children with special needs, in Peabody. He was also sent to Danvers State Hospital in his teens.

Beverly police arrested him in 1988, after he murdered Rollo and dumped his body near the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.


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