January 10, 2006

9 jurors picked in Druce trial on priestís killing

WORCESTER (MA)
Telegram & Gazette

By Gary V. Murray TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
gmurray@telegram.com

WORCESTERó Jury selection was scheduled to resume today for the trial of Joseph L. Druce, the inmate charged with murder in the prison slaying of defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan.

Mr. Druce, who allegedly beat and strangled the 68-year-old Mr. Geoghan in the ex-priestís cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on Aug. 23, 2003, has raised an insanity defense to the murder charge. Mr. Druceís appointed lawyer, John H. LaChance, maintains his client was suffering from a major mental illness at the time of the slaying at the maximum-security prison on the Lancaster-Shirley line and was not criminally responsible for his actions.

Courtroom security was tight yesterday as jury selection began in Worcester Superior Court. Four court officers remained in the courtroom during the proceedings and several correction officers were stationed in the hallway outside. Mr. Druceís ankles were shackled over his trousers. He wore a striped tie and a pale blue dress shirt that concealed the tattoos covering his arms, but not those on his wrist and hand.

By the end of the day, nine jurors were seated to hear the case. A total of 16 jurors, including four alternates, will be impaneled.

Prospective jurors were questioned individually by Judge Francis R. Fecteau in an effort to ensure that those chosen would be able to decide the case based solely on the evidence. Potential jurors were asked, for example, whether they would be able to find Mr. Druce not guilty by reason of mental illness if the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving not only that he committed the murder, but also that he was legally sane at the time.

They were told that Mr. Druce was serving a life sentence at the time of the slaying, but not that he was convicted in 1989 for the murder of a man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking him up hitchhiking. They were asked if the fact that Mr. Geoghan was serving a sentence for molesting a young boy when he was killed would affect their ability to decide the case impartially.

More than two dozen prospective jurors were excused from service by Judge Fecteau, including two who said they had concerns about the validity of insanity defenses, one who said he was a victim of molestation and had no sympathy for Mr. Geoghan and another who said he would hold it against Mr. Druce if he did not testify in his own defense.

Mr. LaChance exercised eight of his 16 pre-emptory challenges of prospective jurors. Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. Murphy used two of his. The pre-emptory challenges allow the lawyers to exclude potential jurors from the case without giving any reason for doing so.

The nine jurors who were seated yesterday, five women and four men, were asked to return to court at 2 p.m. today. It was not clear whether the lawyers would make their opening statements today or tomorrow. The trial is expected to last about two weeks once a jury is impaneled.

Mr. Druce allegedly confessed to the slaying, telling investigators he killed Mr. Geoghan to prevent him from sexually abusing other children after his release from prison. The ex-priest, accused in civil lawsuits of molesting more than 150 boys, was at the heart of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese.

Posted by kshaw at January 10, 2006 08:19 AM