The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Expanded panel on Geoghan sought

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/11/2003

A group of six legislators yesterday called on Governor Mitt Romney to expand the membership and the mission of a panel appointed last month to investigate the strangulation of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan inside a maximum-security prison.

In addition to Geoghan's death, the legislators also cited the death of Kelly-Jo Griffen, 24, of Lynn, at the state prison in Framingham July 21 in demanding a comprehensive look at the state Department of Correction.

"As a group, we believe that the murder of John Geoghan and the death of Kelly-Jo Griffen indicate problems in our prison system that should be investigated by an independent body," said Representative Patricia D. Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who was the author of the letter from the Legislature's prison task force.

"The deaths of John Geoghan and Kelly-Jo Griffen can go unexamined, or, they can provide the opportunity for an open examination that will lead to an improved system of corrections in the Commonwealth," according to the letter, which was delivered to Romney's chief of staff Tuesday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Romney declined to comment yesterday on the letter.

Meanwhile, 23 members of the Legislature's Women's Caucus signed another letter urging state Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Thomas Finneran to assign a legislative committee to investigate Griffen's death.

Representative Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat and a member of the prison task force, said state law gives lawmakers a special status to investigate the prison system. Along with the governor, judges, and district attorneys, legislators have unrestricted access to prisoners; even lawyers and family are blocked from visiting when an inmate is on medical watch.

Khan invoked that status in June and in August to visit two inmates at the maximum-security Cedar Grove state prison in Walpole. She said she found one inmate in a dark, chilly cell in the facility's basement and the other inmate in the corrections system's disciplinary unit, where there is virtually no contact with other inmates or guards. Khan said a lawyer for both inmates had gone six weeks without being able to contact her clients.

Khan said that her intervention led to the transfer of one of the inmates to another facility, and the lawyer soon after gained access to both inmates.

Justin Latini, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said the prison system's medical staff sometimes restricts visits to inmates for medical reasons. He said ongoing litigation prevented him from discussing Khan's description of the inmate housed in a cell in the prison's basement.

Latini said Kelly-Jo Griffen was arrested on a default warrant and confined to the Framingham state prison on July 21 to await a court appearance. She appeared sick and was immediately put under 24-hour medical care, he said. Griffen's scheduled court appearance was postponed, and she was kept in the medical unit an extra day, said Latini.

On July 23, she collapsed and died, he said, despite repeated attempts by staff to revive her.

"I don't know what happens on a day-to-day basis, but holding an inmate without anyone getting in to see him for six weeks -- that is an abuse," she said.

Romney's secretary of public safety, Edward A. Flynn, announced on Aug. 25 the appointment of a three-member panel to investigate Geoghan's death two days earlier in a protective custody unit at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. The panel is chaired by Mark Delaney, a State Police major, and includes Mark Reilly, the Department of Correction's chief of investigations, and George Camp, a Department of Correction contractor and the executive director of the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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