January 18, 2006

Ill defense lawyer stalls Druce trial in priest slaying

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— The trial of Joseph L. Druce, the inmate charged with murder in the 2003 prison slaying of pedophile priest John J. Geoghan, was suspended yesterday because Mr. Druce’s lawyer was sick.

Judge Francis R. Fecteau told the jury in the Worcester Superior Court case that Mr. Druce’s appointed lawyer, John H. LaChance of Framingham, was too ill to attend court yesterday, but that he was optimistic the trial would be able to resume today.

Judge Fecteau said the trial, which was expected to last about two weeks once a jury was chosen, remained on schedule. Testimony began a week ago today.

While the nature of Mr. LaChance’s illness was not made clear, the judge said it was anticipated that it would be short-lived. A juror also called in sick yesterday, reporting that she was suffering flu-like symptoms, according to Judge Fecteau. The 16-member jury includes four alternate jurors. The alternates will be randomly chosen at the conclusion of the case. A total of 12 jurors will deliberate.

If Mr. LaChance had been present yesterday, the missing juror could have been excused from service and the trial could have continued.

Mr. Druce, 40, has raised an insanity defense to the charge of murdering the 68-year-old Mr. Geoghan on Aug. 23, 2003, in the ex-priest’s prison cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on the Lancaster-Shirley line. Mr. Geoghan was serving a sentence of 9 to 10 years for molesting a 10-year-old boy when he was killed. Mr. Druce was serving a life sentence for the murder of a North Shore man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking him up hitchhiking.

According to testimony from prison officials and state police, Mr. Druce admitted strangling and beating Mr. Geoghan after slipping into his cell unnoticed, allegedly saying he killed the former priest to prevent him from molesting other children after his release from custody.

After being brought into the courtroom yesterday so the judge could excuse the jury for the day, Mr. Druce turned to a television camera and blurted, “Pedophiles, beware; Joe Druce says leave the kids alone.”

Mr. Druce also charged that prosecutors had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in connection with a motion to dismiss his case. After the jury had left the courtroom, Mr. Druce sought to address the court about a motion he had personally filed relating to a witness who he claimed perjured herself during a hearing on the motion to dismiss.

Judge Fecteau declined to discuss the matter in Mr. LaChance’s absence.

Posted by kshaw at January 18, 2006 07:29 AM