January 25, 2006

Jury begins deliberations in Druce murder trial

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Contrasting portraits of confessed killer Joseph L. Druce emerged yesterday during closing arguments in his Worcester Superior Court murder trial.

Defense lawyer John H. LaChance said the evidence presented during seven days of testimony showed his client was mentally ill and lacked criminal responsibility for his actions when he beat and strangled defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan in his prison cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Mr. LaChance asked the jurors to find Mr. Druce not guilty by reason of insanity in the Aug. 23, 2003, slaying.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. Murphy said the same evidence proved Mr. Druce was legally sane when he took the 68-year-old Mr. Geoghan’s life and supported a conviction for first-degree murder. The prosecutor told the jury in his final summation that a conviction for first-degree murder was warranted because the prison slaying was both premeditated and committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

After receiving hourlong instructions on the law from Judge Francis R. Fecteau, the jury of 7 men and 5 women deliberated for about 3-1/2 hours yesterday afternoon without rendering a verdict. Deliberations were scheduled to resume today.

Mr. Druce, now 40, told prison officials, state police and the jury in his case that he killed Mr. Geoghan to prevent him from molesting other children after his release from custody.

A central figure in the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese, Mr. Geoghan was serving a sentence of 9 to 10 years for molesting a 10-year-old boy when Mr. Druce slipped into his cell unnoticed during a lunch break and strangled him with a pair of socks, a sneaker and a pillowcase. Mr. Druce was serving a life sentence imposed in 1989 for the murder of a man who allegedly made a sexual advance toward him after picking him up hitchhiking.

The trial included expert testimony from both sides on the question of Mr. Druce’s mental state at the time of the killing. Judge Fecteau told the jury it must decide whether, at the time of the slaying, Mr. Druce suffered from a mental disease or defect that rendered him substantially incapable of either appreciating the wrongfulness of his conduct or of conforming his behavior to the requirements of the law.

A verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness could result in Mr. Druce’s commitment to a state hospital for the criminally insane. The commitment would be subject to periodic court review, but would not wipe out his earlier life sentence with no possibility of parole, a point that Mr. LaChance tried to drive home in his closing argument.

“Tell the truth about what happened, and tell the truth about Joseph Druce,” Mr. LaChance urged the jurors. A verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness would give Mr. Druce a chance to receive the psychiatric treatment “that he’s never had before,” the defense lawyer said.

Mr. LaChance said his client, who testified that he was sexually abused as a child, was delusional when he took Mr. Geoghan’s life and saw himself as “the savior of the children by doing what he did.” Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said Mr. Druce was suffering from multiple mental illnesses, including a dissociative disorder, at the time of the killing.

“It’s not one of his personas who is on trial, it’s Joseph Druce who’s on trial,” Mr. Murphy said in his closing. Standing before the jury with his arms folded across his chest, the prosecutor described Mr. Druce as a “calculating,” manipulative individual who carefully planned the killing of Mr. Geoghan and patiently awaited his opportunity to carry it out.

“He calculated that day, Aug. 23, 2003, and he’s still calculating. He’s not a seriously mentally ill person,” Mr. Murphy said.

Dr. Martin Kelly, a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, said Mr. Druce was suffering from an antisocial personality disorder, but was legally sane when the killing occurred.

“A lot of this stuff that he’s telling us now is trying to help his own cause,” Mr. Murphy said of Mr. Druce.

“He killed John Geoghan because he didn’t like pedophiles…What gives him the right to do that? What makes him the executioner?” the prosecutor asked.

The jury’s verdict options are not guilty, not guilty by reason of mental illness, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of second-degree murder.

Posted by kshaw at January 25, 2006 09:08 AM