January 11, 2006

Druce jury selected; arguments start today

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Opening statements were scheduled today in the trial of Joseph L. Druce, the prison inmate charged with murder in the strangulation and beating death of defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan.

Mr. Druce is raising an insanity defense, claiming he lacked criminal responsibility for the Aug. 23, 2003, slaying in a protective custody unit at the Souza-Baranowksi Correctional Center on the Lancaster-Shirley line. Mr. Druce allegedly confessed to the killing, telling investigators he beat the former priest and strangled him with a pair of socks tied together to prevent him from molesting other children upon his release from prison.

At the time of the killing, which occurred in Mr. Geoghan’s cell, the 68-year-old ex-priest was serving a sentence of 9 to 10 years for sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. Mr. Druce, 40, was serving a life sentence imposed after he was convicted in 1989 of murdering a man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking him up hitchhiking. He raised an unsuccessful insanity defense in that case.

Prosecutors contend Mr. Druce methodically planned the murder of Mr. Geoghan, a central figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, and that he was legally sane when the killing was carried out.

A 16-member jury made up of 10 men and six women was impaneled in Worcester Superior Court over the last two days to hear the case. Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. Murphy and Mr. Druce’s appointed lawyer, John H. LaChance, were expected to make their opening statements to the jurors this morning.

The trial, which will include expert testimony from both sides on the issue of Mr. Druce’s mental state at the time of the slaying, is expected to last about two weeks.

Jury selection, which began Monday and concluded yesterday afternoon, involved individual questioning of more than 100 prospective jurors by Judge Francis R. Fecteau, who will preside over the trial. Potential jurors were asked, for example, whether they had formed any opinions about the case based on pretrial publicity or had any strong feelings about psychiatric defenses, in general, that might affect their impartiality.

One prospective juror who was excused yesterday by the judge said a member of his family was a victim of Mr. Geoghan. The man also said he was self-employed and could not afford to take two weeks off from work.

Another potential juror was excused after telling the court he was molested as an altar boy. Yet another said he believed that what Mr. Geoghan allegedly did to children was so “horrific” he “probably didn’t deserve to live.”

Posted by kshaw at January 11, 2006 08:21 AM