The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Monthlong plot to kill Geoghan

DA describes inmate attack; Romney orders correction probe

By Michael S. Rosenwald and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/26/2003

Joseph L. Druce told investigators he planned the murder of John J. Geoghan for at least a month, plotting how he jammed the defrocked priest's cell door shut with part of a book, tied him up with a T-shirt, and used socks to strangle him after lunch, authorities said yesterday.

"He considered Geoghan a prize because he was so consumed with hatred toward homosexuals," Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said.

Druce, who had been in solitary confinement because of a fight until just two days before the attack, has provided investigators with precise details of the slaying Saturday at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, including how he got into Geoghan's cell by telling him "there was something about his coffee that he didn't like and he wanted to trade," Conte said.

"He said Geoghan had no idea what he was up to," Conte said, adding, "He was so proud of what he did."

Conte, whose office plans to present the case to a grand jury next month, detailed the attack yesterday as Governor Mitt Romney formed a special panel, headed by State Police Major Mark Delaney, to conduct an independent investigation of the events surrounding the slaying in the state's newest protective custody unit, where Druce and Geoghan were housed.

Edward A. Flynn, the secretary of public safety, said Romney directed him to conduct a sweeping investigation of the Department of Correction's policies and procedures. Although Flynn would not detail the investigation's focus, a state official said it would initially examine staffing levels at the Shirley facility and other prisons, as well as how inmates are assigned to the protective custody unit.

"We cannot escape the fact that an inmate died while in the care of the Department of Correction," Flynn said.

In detailing the attack, Conte said about two dozen cell doors in the protective custody unit opened on schedule at 11:48 a.m. for inmates to bring their trays to a common area after lunch. Prisoners have four minutes to return to their cells, and just before the doors automatically closed, Druce slipped into Geoghan's cell.

Druce, serving a life sentence for the 1988 strangulation death of a Gloucester man he believed was gay, jammed the door shut by inserting a book into the crack above it and a toothbrush and nail clipper into the space below. He prepared the book by ripping out the pages so that it would fit perfectly, Conte said. Druce bound Geoghan's hands behind his back with a T-shirt and threw him on the floor, then strangled the 68-year-old, using socks he had "previously been stretching for some time." He used Geoghan's shoe to tighten the tourniquet, Conte said, and wrapped a pillow case around Geoghan's neck to "strengthen the strangulation."Druce also had a razor in his pocket, said Conte who, in response to questions, added that inmates are not allowed to have razors and that it was "definitely possible" Druce intended to castrate Geoghan. When another inmate saw the commotion in Geoghan's cell -- including Druce jumping on the elderly man's chest -- he told a correctional officer, who ran to the cell but had to radio for help when he couldn't open the door. "About seven or eight minutes" after Druce entered the cell, Conte said, officers pried the door open, but found Geoghan unresponsive. A nurse at the scene could not revive him, and he was taken to a Leominster hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:17 p.m.

Conte said there were two guards on duty and that one was with a nurse who was dispensing medicine.

Conte said the prison's procedures would be examined. Noting that nearly two dozen cell doors were open at once when the attack began, he said, "That to me seems like something that shouldn't happen."

An autopsy by Dr. Richard Evans, the chief medical examiner in Boston, ruled the cause of death to be ligature strangulation and blunt chest trauma, broken ribs, and a punctured lung, Conte said. Investigators are perplexed as to why Geoghan didn't shout for help when Druce approached. Two state officials briefed by investigators said Druce persuaded Geoghan not to scream once he began tying him up by telling him it was just part of a ruse.

The two state officials, who asked not to be identified, said Druce told investigators he wanted to be transferred out of Shirley and believed he could do so by taking a hostage in the unit.

James R. Pingeon, a lawyer with Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said a prisoner who has been represented by his office and was in the same protective custody unit at Shirley, contacted him yesterday to say he had complained to guards about Druce six weeks ago.

The prisoner, whom Pingeon declined to identify, told guards that Druce approached him earlier in the summer with a proposition: He wanted to take him hostage so he would be prosecuted for a federal offense and sent to a federal institution.

The prisoner said the guards to whom he gave the information about Druce dismissed his concerns. On Saturday, after Geoghan was slain, the prisoner tried to get to the State Police who were on site to provide them with the information, but he said the guards refused to let him talk to the investigators. The inmate also said Druce told him that a third prisoner had offered Druce money to attack Geoghan, according to Pingeon.Conte said his office is interested in speaking with Pingeon's client. Druce was transferred into the high-tech protective custody unit in Shirley earlier this year after complaining to corrections officials that he had "a number of enemies" in general population in Walpole, where he previously was incarcerated.

Geoghan, a state corrections official said, had been transferred to the protective custody unit at Shirley because officers in Concord, where he was previously incarcerated, noticed that he was the target of harassment.

"The feeling was that he needed the added security that protective custody would bring," the official said.

But Geoghan, a frail man who walked slowly, was housed in a unit of about two dozen other prisoners -- many of whom were young men serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes -- including Druce, convicted of strangling a 51-year-old man in 1988. Druce stuffed him in the trunk of the victim's car and drove him to a wooded area. "One of the general problems with the protective custody unit there is that you have inmates with very serious histories of assault in with people who are very vulnerable," Pingeon said.

Indeed, state Department of Correction spokeswoman Kelly Nantel confirmed the account of a disciplinary report, read to the Globe, that said Druce was locked in an isolation unit until two days before the fatal attack on Geoghan. The report said Druce "exchanged closed-fist punches" with another prisoner in protective custody on Aug. 1 in the prison facility's gym before being stopped by correctional officers, Nantel confirmed. Druce was locked in isolation from Aug. 6 to 21, according to the report. "There was an altercation -- a basketball fight -- and Druce was given segregation, which he served and was returned back to the protective custody unit," said Nantel.

When asked whether such an assault should have raised red flags, Nantel said, "It did not rise to the level of extra concern," and while such fights "are not commonplace, they do happen." Nantel said she could not comment on whether the other inmate in the fight was disciplined. She also did not know whether anyone was injured.

Conte said Druce told authorities he had planned the killing alone, but the district attorney said authorities would investigate the possibility that other inmates were involved.

The union that represents the corrections officers have long argued that there are too few guards to staff the prison.

Flynn said he believed it was "normal" to have two guards assigned to the protective custody unit, but said he would await the results of the investigation to say whether more guards were needed to provide security. Flynn also said staffing levels had been sufficient to provide security for the unit in the past.

Romney did not provide a timetable for the investigation, and Flynn declined to say when he might gain preliminary findings.

The four other former priests who are currently serving time in Massachusetts prisons for abusing youths will be interviewed by state officials to determine whether they are in fear of their safety, Flynn said.

Only two of the four are currently in general population, state officials said. They are: John R. Hanlon, serving a life sentence at Baystate Correctional Center in Norfolk, and Kelvin Iguabita, who was sentenced to a 12- to 14-year term this year and is currently incarcerated at MCI-Concord.

The two priests serving time in restricted prison facilities are: James R. Porter, 68, sentenced to 18- to 20-years in prison in 1993 and currently incarcerated at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater; and Ronald H. Paquin, 61, in protective custody at MCI-Concord after being sentenced last year to a 12- to 15-year term.

Flynn said none of the four expressed any concern for their safety up to now. He underscored that they may spurn any offer for protective custody. "They have the right to say they don't feel at risk," Flynn said.

Sean P. Murphy and Farah Stockman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to