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Fellow Inmate Guilty of Murdering Ex-Priest

January 26, 2006|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — A jury in Worcester, Mass., convicted a prison inmate Wednesday of murdering John J. Geoghan, the defrocked Roman Catholic priest at the center of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese.

Joseph L. Druce, 40, had admitted strangling Geoghan in Geoghan's prison cell on Aug. 23, 2003. Jurors in Worcester, about 40 miles west of Boston, rejected Druce's claims that he was insane when he killed Geoghan and that he believed he was protecting children by doing so.

Geoghan, 68, was serving nine to 10 years for fondling a 10-year-old boy at a community swimming pool. He was accused of molesting more than 150 children over three decades as a priest in the Boston area.

His trial in 2002 helped spark the abuse crisis that continues to haunt the Roman Catholic Church. Documents made public during the case revealed that church officials had rebuffed complaints from parents who said Geoghan, their parish priest, had sexually molested their children.

Rather than removing him from duties involving children, church officials simply moved Geoghan when reports became too numerous. He served in six parishes around Boston.

Geoghan's trial helped propagate the phrase "pedophile priest."

In 2002, 86 of Geoghan's victims accepted a $10-million settlement from the Boston Archdiocese.

Geoghan was in the protective custody unit at the state's most secure prison -- the Souza-Baranowski facility in Shirley in central Massachusetts -- when Druce sneaked into Geoghan's cell after a lunch break. He jammed the cell door shut with a book, then strangled Geoghan and stomped on his body before guards dragged him away.

In this month's trial, Druce's lawyers said that he had been sexually abused as a child and that he believed God chose him to kill Geoghan as a warning to other pedophiles.

Druce was serving a life sentence for the 1988 killing of a man who reportedly made sexual overtures after picking up Druce hitchhiking. Massachusetts has no death penalty. The new conviction guarantees Druce a second sentence of life in prison without parole.

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