January 12, 2006

Druce seen as killer or madman at trial

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Joseph L. Druce was either a delusional, impulsive madman devoid of self-restraint or a calculating, cold-blooded killer who knew exactly what he was doing when he killed fellow inmate John J. Geoghan.

Those were the conflicting portraits proffered by defense and prosecution lawyers yesterday as Mr. Druce’s murder trial started in Worcester Superior Court.

In his opening statement to the jury, defense lawyer John H. LaChance did not dispute that his client strangled Mr. Geoghan in the defrocked pedophile priest’s cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on the morning of Aug 23, 2003.

He said Mr. Druce was mentally ill at the time and lacked criminal responsibility for his actions. Mr. LaChance told the jury the evidence would show Mr. Druce was suffering from dissociative disorder when he killed Mr. Geoghan, 68, a convicted child molester, and was living in a “fantasy world” in which he viewed himself as “the savior of the kids.”

Mr. LaChance also said he would offer evidence that David Lonergan, a correction officer who was on duty in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski on the day of the slaying, was aware of Mr. Druce’s planned attack on Mr. Geoghan and “approved or at least acquiesced.” Officer Lonergan later denied the allegation, after being called as Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. Murphy’s first witness in the case.

Mr. Murphy promised in his opening statement to present evidence, including the defendant’s own words when he confessed to the killing, to show that Mr. Druce had been plotting Mr. Geoghan’s slaying for some time before carrying it out. In his outline of the government’s case, the prosecutor said the evidence would show Mr. Druce saw Mr. Geoghan as a “prize” and that he waited patiently for an opportunity to sneak into the ex-priest’s cell, jam the cell door to prevent intervention and kill him.

Mr. Murphy said Mr. Druce told investigators he took Mr. Geoghan’s life to keep him from abusing other children after the former priest was released from custody.

At the time of the killing, Mr. Druce, now 40, was serving a life sentence for a 1989 conviction for the murder of a man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking him up hitchhiking. His insanity defense in that case was unsuccessful.

Mr. Geoghan, who had been accused in civil lawsuits of molesting as many as 150 boys, was serving a sentence of 9 to 10 years for fondling a 10-year-old boy.

Officer Lonergan testified that he was the only correction officer in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski, a maximum-security prison on the Lancaster-Shirley line, when Mr. Geoghan was killed. Officer Lonergan said another officer assigned to the unit had been temporarily called away to another part of the prison when he received word from an inmate that there were two prisoners in Mr. Geoghan’s cell.

It was shortly before noon, and the 26 inmates in the J-1 unit, including Mr. Druce and Mr. Geoghan, had been let out of their cells moments earlier to return their food trays, according to Officer Lonergan. He said he rushed to Mr. Geoghan’s cell, peered through the narrow window in the door and saw Mr. Druce jumping from the bed onto the floor, where Mr. Geoghan lay with his hands bound behind his back.

Officer Lonergan told the jury he tried to open the cell door, both manually and by computer, but to no avail. The door was jammed and “jumping on the track,” he said.

He testified that he radioed for assistance and that a prison “response team” arrived. Within 3 to 4 minutes, the door to Mr. Geoghan’s cell was forced open and Mr. Druce was dragged out by correction officers, Officer Lonergan said.

It was later determined that Mr. Druce had jammed the door with a pair of nail clippers and a paperback copy of a book titled “The Cross and the Switchblade.”

When asked by Mr. Murphy if he had any advance knowledge that Mr. Druce planned to do anything to Mr. Geoghan that day, Officer Lonergan responded, “Absolutely not.”

Under cross-examination by Mr. LaChance, Officer Lonergan, who said he has been on medical leave and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder since the day of the killing, denied ever discussing Mr. Geoghan with Mr. Druce, but acknowledged that he and Mr. Druce were from the same town and had mutual acquaintances.

“Didn’t you, in fact, look the other way when he slipped into that cell?” Mr. LaChance asked.

“Not at all,” said Officer Lonergan.

“You’re absolutely certain of that?” the defense lawyer asked.

“Absolutely certain,” Officer Lonergan said.

Sgt. Lee Bradley of the Souza-Baranowski staff said he tried to revive Mr. Geoghan after finding him face-down on the floor of his cell.

Sgt. Bradley said the victim’s face was purple, his hands were tied behind his back with a T-shirt and that a “tourniquet” consisting of a sneaker, a pair of socks tied together and a pillow case were wrapped around his neck. There was urine and a small amount of blood on the cell floor, the officer said.

Correction Officer Travis Canty said he was one of four officers who escorted Mr. Druce to the prison’s health services unit after he was removed from Mr. Geoghan’s cell.

During cross-examination, Mr. LaChance showed Officer Canty three photographs depicting injuries to Mr. Druce’s face. The defense lawyer asked if Officer Canty or any of his fellow officers had caused the injuries while accompanying Mr. Druce to the infirmary. Officer Canty said they had not.

He acknowledged having his right hand looked at by medical personnel in the health services unit and said he believed the injury occurred when he struck his hand on a door frame while escorting Mr. Druce.

Testimony was scheduled to resume today.

Posted by kshaw at January 12, 2006 06:53 AM