Prosecutor - Inmate planned ex-priest's slaying for some weeks

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

WORCESTER, Mass. -- The inmate accused of strangling John Geoghan in his prison cell hated homosexuals and began plotting the attack on the child-molesting former priest weeks ago, a prosecutor said Monday.

"He looked upon Father Geoghan as a prize," District Attorney John J. Conte said. "No question he had been planning it for well over a month."

Joseph L. Druce, who is serving a life term for killing a gay man 15 years ago, cut apart a book to make a perfect tool for jamming the door of Geoghan's cell and spent time stretching the socks used to strangle him, Conte said.

Druce "has a long-standing phobia, it appears, toward homosexuals of any kind. ... He is filled with long-standing hate," Conte said as he provided new details into the death of the central figure in the Roman Catholic Church sex scandal.

Conte did not address why two inmates with such criminal histories were living in the same cell block at the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Conte said part of the investigation would try to determine how many cells should be opened at any one time on the protective-custody block.

Gov. Mitt Romney on Monday appointed a panel headed by state police Maj. Mark Delaney to conduct an independent investigation.

Druce and Geoghan had just finished lunch in their cells and were let out to return their trays when Druce followed Geoghan into his cell about 11:52 a.m. Saturday, before the doors were locked again.

In the upper track of the cell door, Druce jammed a book he had doctored to fit the slot, then put nail clippers and a tooth brush in the door's lower track to prevent guards from opening the door. He had precut the book to fit into the track, Conte said.

He tied Geoghan's hands behind his back with a T-shirt, then used the stretched-out socks, a pillow case and one of Geoghan's shoes to strangle him, Conte said. Druce also had a razor, with which he planned "to do further harm," but it was apparently not used in the attack, he said.

Once he was alerted to the attack, the guard on duty tried to get inside, but found the door was jammed. He called for help. By the time a nurse arrived to treat Geoghan, seven or eight minutes had passed, Conte said.

"No question he had been planning it for well over a month," Conte said of Druce, who he said has been cooperative with investigators.

Geoghan, 68, was taken to Leominster Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:17 p.m. An autopsy Monday showed that Geoghan died from strangulation and blunt chest trauma. He also had broken ribs and a punctured lung, Conte said.

Conte has said Druce will be charged with murder once a grand jury is convened in September. Druce remains in isolation in the prison.

Geoghan allegedly molested nearly 150 boys over three decades and became a symbol of the clergy sex abuse scandal that shook the foundations of the Catholic church. He was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy. He had been in protective custody since being transferred to Souza-Baranowski in April, officials said.

Geoghan eventually was granted early retirement in 1996 and praised for an "effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness" by Cardinal Bernard Law, who ultimately resigned in December 2002 for his role in the scandal.

With legal troubles mounting, Geoghan was defrocked in 1998, and in December 1999 charged with raping and molesting three boys. The archdiocese eventually settled with 86 Geoghan victims for $10 million.

Flynn said surveillance cameras were rolling in the protective custody unit while the attack took place. "The films are being reviewed right now to ascertain what was on those films," he said.

Druce, 37, a reputed member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation, was convicted in the June 1988 murder of George Rollo, 51, a gay bus driver who had picked Druce up hitchhiking. Druce, who then went by his birth name, Darrin E. Smiledge, attacked Rollo, stuffed him in the trunk of Rollo's car, drove him to a wooded area and strangled him, according to court documents.

A fellow hitchhiker told investigators that Smiledge attacked the bus driver when Rollo made a sexual advance, according to the documents. An insanity defense failed and Smiledge was sentenced to life in prison.

Smiledge also pleaded guilty to sending fake anthrax from prison to lawyers with Jewish-sounding names and was sentenced to an additional 37 months in prison.

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