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Inmate Said to Have Stalked Former Priest

August 26, 2003|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — The prison inmate who fatally strangled a central figure in the worldwide clerical abuse scandal said he stalked pedophile ex-priest John J. Geoghan for more than a month and considered him "a prize," a district attorney said here Monday.

"It certainly was intentional on the part of the defendant," said John J. Conte, the district attorney in Worcester County, west of Boston.

Conte said Joseph L. Druce admitted the killing and said he acted alone. Conte described the 38-year-old convicted murderer as "filled with long-standing hate."

As law enforcement officials announced two investigations into the incident -- and as the district attorney offered details of the killing -- Geoghan's death Saturday in a maximum protective custody unit at a prison outside Boston sparked criticism from prisoners rights advocates, the state's correctional officers union and others.

Questions arose about why only one guard was present when Geoghan was attacked in the 22-cell unit and why the prison's 300 surveillance cameras failed to capture a slaying that officials said took seven to eight minutes. Many wondered why Druce -- convicted in 1988 of killing a 51-year-old man he believed to be homosexual -- was allowed contact with one of the state's most notorious child molesters.

"This is a terrible black eye on the Department of Corrections for the commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director for Amnesty International. "John Geoghan was among the most high-profile prisoners in the state. At the same time, he was a frail, older man. He was 68 years old. And the state could not protect him adequately."

The former priest was accused of molesting nearly 150 children in the Boston Archdiocese over more than 30 years. In January 2002, he received a nine-year prison sentence for fondling a boy.

Documents published in the Boston Globe and elsewhere during Geoghan's trial revealed that top officials were aware for decades of sexual abuse complaints against him. Rather than remove him from duties involving work with children, church leaders routinely reassigned Geoghan to new parishes.

At least two other criminal charges were pending against Geoghan, who was moved recently to the Shirley facility after voicing fears for his life at the state's maximum security prison in Concord.

An official of the prison guards union said Monday his organization told state correction officials that the maximum protective custody unit where Geoghan and Druce were held was understaffed.

"We asked them to guarantee that at least two correction officers would be in the protective custody unit at all times. They refused," said Robert Brouillette, business agent for the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union. "We hoped to prevent the kind of senseless violence and death that occurred over the weekend."

Conte said that two guards ordinarily were assigned to the protective custody unit where Geoghan and Druce were held.

But when the assault took place about noon Saturday, one guard was elsewhere in the facility, helping a nurse administer medications, Conte said.

He said the cell block was not fully secured, and the other guard apparently was distracted while Druce entered Geoghan's cell. Conte said Druce jammed the cell door shut with a nail clipper, a toothbrush and a book to prevent guards from entering.

Conte said Druce used a T-shirt to tie Geoghan's hands behind his back. He strangled Geoghan with socks, "which he had been stretching for a long time," Conte said.

An autopsy Monday found that Geoghan died of "ligature strangulation" and "blunt chest trauma" that caused broken ribs and punctured lungs.

Conte described Druce as "extremely cooperative" in the investigation into Geoghan's death. He also said that Druce "said he was the only one involved."

"But we are not taking that at face value," Conte added.

He said Druce had recently been released from the prison's isolation unit. He said Druce apparently had made a careful study of the habits of guards and prisoners in the protective custody area.

In 1988, Druce murdered George Rollo, a bus driver who picked Druce up hitchhiking. Court records indicate that Rollo made a sexual advance on Druce.

Conte said Monday that Druce had "a long-standing phobia, it appears, toward homosexuals of any kind."

Ed Flynn, the state secretary of public safety, said Monday that inmates admitted to protective custody undergo screening "to determine who their enemies are" before they are placed in a particular prison.

Flynn said "people in protective custody have very specific rights." But, he said, "it is not like selecting a roommate -- and I don't mean to be flip. This is not like filling out a form when you are in college and say you don't want to room with a smoker."

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