The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Bid to keep Geoghan at Concord was denied

By Michael S. Rosenwald and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/27/2003

The superintendent at MCI-Concord overruled a prison board's recommendation to keep convicted pedophile John J. Geoghan "in protective custody" at that facility and the defrocked priest was later shipped to Shirley, where he was killed, a prison official said early today.

Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction, said a classifications hearing board recommended in March that Geoghan remain in Concord, but the superintendent said that he should be moved to the Shirley facility because of his behavioral problems.

"This was based on Mr. Geoghan's accumulation of disciplinary reports and his overall poor institutional adjustment at MCI-Concord," she said in a phone interview. "He was in protective custody. They recommended to keep him there. That decision was modified by the superintendent," identified on the prison's website as Michael Grant.

The revelation came as legal sources said that the day before he was beaten and killed, Geoghan told a fellow prisoner he had alerted prison guards that Joseph L. Druce was after him, and he feared for his life.

Peter J. Costanza, a staff attorney with Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services who interviewed the other inmate, said Geoghan confided his fears to Robert Assad, a former police officer in jail for arson.

Costanza said Assad told guards at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley that Druce had told him in June that he intended to take Geoghan hostage, but the guards dismissed Assad's concerns. All three inmates were in the prison's protective custody unit.

"This is the first I am hearing of that," Nantel said yesterday. "Obviously, this ongoing review is to look at all of that."

Authorities have said that Druce, a 37-year-old neo-Nazi who was serving a life sentence for murder, beat and strangled Geoghan on Saturday just after inmates in the unit finished lunch. He had reportedly planned the attack for more than a month.

Governor Mitt Romney said yesterday that the three-member independent panel he has appointed to investigate the slaying should examine whether Druce and Geoghan should have been housed in the same unit.

"To most people, the mingling of a neo-Nazi with a pedophile is not an ideal mixture," Romney said, adding, "As a state, we have a responsibility to protect our citizens in their homes, their schools, streets, even in jail. And when someone is murdered, you have to stop and say, `OK, can we learn from that?' And when they're in jail, in state custody, we have a particular responsibility, to say, `OK, what can we do better?' "

The Department of Correction officials said yesterday that Geoghan had been cited for numerous alleged disciplinary violations while in protective custody at the state's medium-security prison in Concord, which prompted his transfer in April to the maximum-security prison in Shirley, where he was placed in the protective custody unit.

But Costanza and James R. Pingeon, another lawyer with Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said members of his staff had received information characterizing the violations cited by Concord guards as "trumped up." And Costanza said Geoghan complained to him of harassment from guards while at Concord. Geoghan said his food was fouled, he was constantly taunted, and that on one occasion excrement was put in his bed.

"He was not an aggressive or difficult guy to deal with," Costanza said. "He was not a guy who made trouble. And if he did get disciplinary reports, it was because someone was making trouble for him. It had to be within the context of the overall harassment he was getting."

As for the decision to move Geoghan to Shirley, Constanza said Geoghan's lawyers pressured the corrections department to move him to a higher security level because of the alleged harassment at Concord. "It's commonplace for a superintendent to overrule the board for whatever his own reasons might be," he said. "The whole process is very, very arbitrary."

Meanwhile, a relative of an inmate in Concord's protective custody unit said guards there disliked Geoghan and may have been trying to force a transfer. The relative, who asked not to be identified, said a guard got into a physical altercation with Geoghan and punched the 68-year-old former priest.

Nantel said she had no information about the episode, but, "any allegations that are made would be investigated."

Geoghan, whose crimes ignited the clergy sexual abuse scandal, was classified a medium-security risk when he entered the Concord prison in February 2002, but was reclassified after accumulating the disciplinary reports, said Nantel.

She said he was cited in 12 disciplinary reports for "insolence," which she said was mainly disobeying orders from guards, and that on one occasion he was cited for tampering with the wires on the hot pot he used to heat water in this cell.

"While he may be described as an enfeebled old man," she said, "he accumulated numerous disciplinary reports, and the reports are classified into major and minor, and obviously his were major [for Geoghan] to be sent to higher security."

Asked if maximum security was appropriate for a prisoner with nonviolent, nonthreatening behavior, she said, "I'm not going to second-guess those decisions. It was deemed worthy of a change in classification. And he seemed to do well once he got to Souza-Baranowski, where he had no disciplinary reports in five months."

Stephen Crawford, a spokesman for the state prison guards union, declined to comment about the allegations that guards harassed Geoghan in Concord.

He said accusations that guards ignored warnings about a possible attack should be investigated.

Costanza said he believed Assad's account of his interactions with Druce and Geoghan. Costanza and Pingeon said Assad had been a police officer, but neither lawyer could say where he had worked in law enforcement. Costanza said, however, that Assad had provided information to Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services about conditions at the Bristol County House of Correction, where he was imprisoned before being sent to Shirley in April. Assad is midway through a five-year prison sentence, Costanza said.

A spokesman for Public Safety Commissioner Edward Flynn said Assad would be interviewed by those conducting an independent state examination.

Assad is willing to speak to any officials investigating Geoghan's death, Costanza said.

Costanza said Assad told him in a 2 1/2-hour interview yesterday that Druce had asked if he could stage an incident in which Druce held Assad hostage so officials would move Druce to a federal prison. Assad rebuffed that overture, and in mid-June, Druce told him he planned to take Geoghan hostage instead.

Massachusetts officials have an agreement with federal authorities that allows for the transfer to federal facilities of prisoners deemed unsafe or a threat to others. Federal prisons generally are considered a less harsh environment because they are less crowded and have fewer men convicted of violent crimes.

Costanza said that on Monday night, Assad provided details of his conversation with Geoghan to State Police investigators assigned to the office of Worcester District Attorney John Conte. Assad also told the State Police investigators he had warned Shirley prison guards about Druce and his proposed hostage-taking on two occasions this summer, and his warnings went unheeded, according to Costanza.

Sean P. Murphy, Farah Stockman, Douglas Belkin, and Rick Klein of the Globe staff and correspondent Jared Stearns contributed to this report.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to