The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Geoghan bore guards' abuse, inmate wrote

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/12/2003

In a letter written to a lawyer seven months before defrocked priest John J. Geoghan was strangled in a cell, an inmate said that he had seen guards abuse Geoghan in Concord state prison and that he had written to top state corrections officials about the abuse of Geoghan and other inmates.

In his letter, a copy of which was provided to the Globe, the inmate cited a dozen examples of abuse he said he witnessed in the protective custody unit at the Concord prison. He offered in the letter to testify against guards if his lawyer decided to bring a complaint against the state Department of Correction.

The inmate wrote that he had seen guards defecate "in John Geoghan's bed and destroy his property."

According to the letter, dated Jan. 31, the inmate had previously complained about the protective custody unit at Concord to the office of the Correction Commissioner Michael T. Maloney.

"I have written several letters to the commissioner's office pertaining to the living conditions on that unit, and how the COs go out of their way to tune up inmates," he wrote, referring to correctional officers. The inmate's lawyer said "tune up" was an expression for abusing inmates.

Also yesterday Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte announced that Joseph L. Druce had been indicted by a grand jury in Geoghan's murder.

Druce, 38, is serving a life sentence, without possibility of parole for the 1988 beating and strangulation of George Rollo, 51, who Druce contends made a sexual advance after picking him up hitchhiking in Gloucester.

John H. LaChance, Druce's court-appointed lawyer, said yesterday that he is investigating Druce's mental health as part of a possible insanity defense. No court date has been set for Druce's appearance in court.

On the charges of abuse of inmates sent to the correction commissioner, a spokesman for Maloney said the commissioner's office receives numerous letters from inmates. Justin Latini declined to look for one that complained about the abuse of Geoghan and other inmates that was dated before Jan. 31, when the inmate wrote to his lawyer.

Latini also said he would not comment on the inmate's allegations without knowing his name.

The inmate's lawyer said his client has an established record of writing complaint letters to Department of Correction officials and other state offices.

"He is not shy," said the lawyer, who asked that neither he nor his client be identified because it would complicate the lawyer's own investigation into the allegations. The identities of the guards named in the letter are not being used because the guards could not be reached to comment.

Stephen Crawford, a spokesman for the prison guard's union, declined comment on the allegations contained in the letter.

The inmate's criminal record could not be determined yesterday, but a report by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in the early 1990s said he had been charged with aggravated rape.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly confirmed yesterday that a letter from the inmate was received on April 9, 2002, but she said the attorney general's office declined to investigate the inmate's allegation of being beaten by a guard. She declined to provide other details.

In the Jan. 31 letter to his lawyer, the inmate referred to a letter he said he sent to the attorney general's office. "Because I filed a complaint," he wrote, "I was sent to the Shirley max," referring to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster.

When he was killed, Geoghan, 68, was serving a 9- to 10-year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy. Allegations that he sexually assaulted nearly 150 children, mostly boys, helped spark the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Authorities said Druce beat Geoghan and used a bed sheet to gag, bind, and strangle the former priest after getting into Geoghan's cell in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski.

Latini said that Maloney assigns staff members to investigate letters from inmates when it is deemed appropriate. The letter refers to incidents involving other inmates, whom the Globe is not identifying because the inmates could not be reached to corroborate the events.

In the letter, the inmate said he witnessed guards "ravage" through the "legal material" of a man who was convicted in the early 1990s of killing a boy, and said guards then accused that inmate of violating prison rules.

The letter also told about an incident in which a guard gave Marlboro cigarettes to an inmate to beat up another inmate who was was convicted in the late 1990s of murdering a boy.

The inmate who wrote the letter said that he was assaulted by a guard and that "all of my personal clothes were thrown away." Because he complained, he said, he was moved from Concord to Souza-Baranowski.

"As far as safety goes, there is none," he wrote of the Concord prison's protective custody unit. The guards "do whatever they see fit, and if they want to do something to you they will. And they have no problem letting someone else do it to you either."

The inmate wrote that he saw a guard blow his nose into a bowl of soup in the "chow line" and said that guards and inmates sometimes spit into the food of others.

A panel was appointed last month to investigate Geoghan's death and any practices and policies of the Department of Correction that may have contributed to the slaying. How Geoghan ended up in a maximum-security facility is one of the central issues being investigated by the three-member panel, along with whether abuse by guards prompted Geoghan's move to Souza-Baranowski.

Geoghan's lawyers at Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services have said that they lobbied correction officials to move him out of Concord to spare him abuse by guards, but that they did not want him at Souza-Baranowski.

The protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski is intended for inmates "too aggressive" to be handled at the protective custody unit at Concord, according to a summary of a correction officials' meeting provided to the Globe. Geoghan, frail and halting, had no incidents of violence on his record since being committed to prison in February 2002, Kelly Nantel, a Department of Correction spokeswoman, said last month.

She said Geoghan was moved to the highest security prison because he was disruptive while at the lower-security Concord facility, primarily by disobeying guards and behaving in what she said was an "insolent" manner.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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