November 29, 2005

Murder trial pushed back in case of pedophile priest

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— The trial of the man charged in the prison slaying of defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan has been postponed until Jan. 9.

Jury selection in the case of Joseph L. Druce was slated to begin yesterday in Worcester Superior Court, but was put off because of a scheduling conflict involving a defense witness, according to Mr. Druce’s appointed lawyer, John H. LaChance. Mr. Druce, 40, is charged with murder in the Aug. 23, 2003, strangulation and beating death of the 68-year-old Mr. Geoghan in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on the Lancaster-Shirley line.

Mr. LaChance is raising an insanity defense on his client’s behalf, maintaining Mr. Druce was not criminally responsible for his actions. Under Massachusetts law, a person accused of a crime may be found not guilty by reason of mental illness if a trier of fact determines that the accused suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time of the offense that substantially affected the defendant’s ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or to control his or her behavior.

At the time of the killing, Mr. Geoghan was serving a sentence of 9 to 10 years for molesting a 10-year-old boy. Mr. Druce was serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of a man he believed was gay. He raised an unsuccessful insanity defense in that case.

Mr. Druce, who has publicly identified himself as a childhood victim of sexual abuse, allegedly confessed to the killing of Mr. Geoghan, a central figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese. A state police detective testified during a September hearing in the case that Mr. Druce told him he killed the ex-priest because “ ‘he was talking about getting out and skinning other children, and I just couldn’t let that happen.’ ”

Detective David Napolitano said Mr. Druce told him he snuck into the defrocked priest’s cell, jammed the cell door with a book and a pair of nail clippers, knocked Mr. Geoghan to the floor and strangled him with a pair of socks. The detective’s testimony came during a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence that was later denied by Judge Timothy S. Hillman.

Mr. LaChance said Mr. Druce’s trial had to be postponed because an expert witness for the defense would otherwise not have been available to testify. The trial, which will include testimony about Mr. Druce’s mental state from expert witnesses for both the defense and prosecution, is expected to last about two weeks.

Mr. Druce remains in custody in the health services unit at the state prison in Walpole after recently swallowing a piece of television cable in what authorities said was an apparent suicide attempt.

Posted by kshaw at November 29, 2005 07:43 AM