The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Report said to describe Druce in rage

Verbal account says inmate was furious after plea denied

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/14/2003

One day after he allegedly beat and strangled defrocked priest John J. Geoghan inside a prison cell, Joseph L. Druce asked a prison nurse on her rounds for the antacid Tums and ointment for his chapped lips, according to a copy of a disciplinary report read to the Globe by a high-ranking state corrections official. When the nurse said no, Druce exploded into a rage.

''I saved your kids from being raped,'' Druce screamed at the nurse, along with an expletive, according to the report, a written copy of which was not provided to the Globe. ''I hope your kids get raped by a pedophile priest.''

Corrections officers and lawyers familiar with Druce's recent behavior say the alleged incident illustrates Druce's lightning-quick temper and his desire for recognition for allegedly killing Geoghan.

John H. LaChance, Druce's attorney, did not return calls Friday seeking comment on the reported outburst. A Department of Correction spokesman said he was not authorized to comment on disciplinary matters.

But in interviews last week, LaChance said he is investigating a likely insanity defense and plans to interview inmates who lived with his client in the protective custody unit of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley in the weeks before and after Geoghan's murder Aug. 23.

''We are looking at all the facts and circumstances involved,'' LaChance said Thursday. ''We are doing our own investigation on the unit. I requested a list from the Department of Correction of all the inmates on the unit and the names of their lawyers, and I said I want access to them.''

LaChance said he is also examing documents detailing Druce's mental health history, including records from his 1989 trial for murder, during which Druce's attorneys unsuccessfully presented an insanity defense.

An insanity defense may be based on showing a defendant was mentally ill at the time of the crime, and thus not criminally responsible, or attempt to show that the defendant is now mentally ill, and thus not able to assist in defending himself at trial, LaChance said.

LaChance said Druce faces additional punishment. His client is serving a life sentence without parole for the strangulation and beating murder of George Rollo of Gloucester in 1988.

If found not guilty because of insanity, Druce could be committed to Bridgewater State Hospital, which is considered preferable to prison, LaChance said. Such a commitment, however, would probably be challenged by Department of Correction officials because of Druce's life sentence for the murder of Rollo, he said.

If convicted of Geoghan's murder, Druce may face a harsh punishment, LaChance said. Inmates convicted of crimes in prison can be held in the corrections department's disciplinary unit in solitary confinement for as long as 10 years. That unit, inside the maximum-security Cedar Junction prison in Walpole, keeps inmates locked in their cells for all but a few hours a week.

Druce had spent nine months in the disciplinary unit before he was transferred to the Souza-Baranowksi on May 27. LaChance said he did not know why Druce was in the disciplinary unit, and the Department of Correction declined to provide information.

LaChance said he noticed a deterioration in Druce's condition between the time he first interviewed Druce on Aug. 27 and Thursday, when he last saw him.

But if LaChance goes ahead with an insanity defense, a letter apparently written by Druce to the Catholic Free Press of Worcester may not help his case, according to a criminologist who reviewed the letter.

In the letter, Druce said he was ''a victim of sexual abuse as a child'' and expressed anger at sex offenders he said he overheard in prison ''gloating'' over their crimes. The letter calls for an end to ''violence toward children.''

Department of Correction officials say they are convinced the letter was written by Druce, though they are unable to authenticate it beyond a doubt.

Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist, said the letter ''on a superficial level looks very rational. If he is trying for an insanity defense, this is not going to help.''

A spokesman for Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte declined to comment on the case Friday.

LaChance said Druce on Thursday ''kept skipping around, and it was difficult to keep him focused'' in their conversation, and that Druce spent most of his time complaining that his ''rights were being violated.''

He complained that he was sleep-deprived because correctional officers kept waking him at night as part of a 24-hour ''mental health watch'' and that he hadn't been allowed to shower in three days or to have enough drinking water, LaChance said. Druce also said he was given coarse, itchy clothing.

''He looked sleep-deprived, dirty and dehydrated,'' said LaChance.

Druce had been in solitary confinement at Souza-Baranowski for fighting until Aug. 22, the day before Geoghan's murder. Authorities said Druce beat Geoghan and used a bed sheet to gag, bind, and strangle the former priest after getting into Geoghan's cell.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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