Juan Ignacio Blanco  


  MALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  FEMALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Murderpedia has thousands of hours of work behind it. To keep creating new content, we kindly appreciate any donation you can give to help the Murderpedia project stay alive. We have many
plans and enthusiasm to keep expanding and making Murderpedia a better site, but we really
need your help for this. Thank you very much in advance.




Joseph Lee DRUCE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Claimed he was severely mentally ill and under the delusion that God had chosen him to kill Geoghan and send a message to pedophiles around the world
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 1988 / August 23, 2003
Date of birth: 1965
Victims profile: George Rollo, 51 (allegedly made a sexual pass at him after picking Druce up hitchhiking) / John J. Geoghan, 68 (the former Roman Catholic priest who was convicted of sexually abusing children, and who had also been at the center of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal)
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1989. Sentenced to a second life imprisonment on January 25, 2006


In death, Geoghan triggers another crisis

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff  |  November 30, 2003

First of three parts

As a crude noose tightened around his neck, John J. Geoghan's face reddened and he gasped a final, fruitless plea for mercy.

"It doesn't have to happen like this," Geoghan begged, his attacker, Joseph L. Druce, said.

"Your days are over," Druce said he told Geoghan. "No more children for you, pal."

That exchange -- contained in Druce's statement to State Police, which was reviewed by the Globe -- came as Geoghan lay sprawled face down on the floor of his cell, 20 feet from the guard duty station inside one of the most secure units at Massachusetts' most secure prison. Then, authorities say, Druce began to squeeze the life out of the frail 68-year-old defrocked priest.

A Correction Department officer, alerted to the attack by two inmates, called for emergency backup. He screamed at Druce to open the door he'd jammed from inside.

"Don't hurt me," Druce told the responding officers, according to an official incident report obtained by the Globe. "It's not against you."

The cell's door was pried open. Geoghan was not breathing and had no pulse. Blood stained the cell floor.

Correction officers and medical staff attached a defibrillator and performed nonstop cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But Geoghan, imprisoned since early 2002 after being convicted for groping a 10-year-old boy in a public swimming pool in Waltham, did not respond.

"You guys can take your time," Druce told responding officers, according to one inmate's account. "It doesn't matter. He's dead already."

Eighty minutes after the Aug. 23 attack at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, Geoghan was pronounced dead at a hospital in Leominster. It was a sudden, spectacular end for a man whose attacks on children spanned 30 years.

In death, something new had been added to Geoghan's epitaph: The cruel, rapacious abuser, the centerpiece of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in Boston, had become a kind of victim. An inmate with a bull's-eye on his back, he was failed by an institution that bungled its basic duty to keep him safe.

To those whose paths he crossed, the image of Geoghan as a victim may never achieve sharp focus.

To his earliest seminary instructors, Geoghan was a young man whose marked immaturity led them to question whether he was fit for seminary life and the priesthood.

To some single mothers of modest means, he was the smiling presence in the back of the church on Sundays who would often appear at their homes around suppertime. He would help out with the children's baths, read them bedtime stories, and then tuck them in for the night. To the mothers, unaware that their parish priest was fondling the children through their bedclothes, he seemed a godsend.

To church officials, who for years made Geoghan's serial abuse one of the most closely held secrets in the Archdiocese of Boston, he was "a pedophile, a liar, a manipulator." He needed to be stopped, they belatedly concluded.

As police and prosecutors closed in on Geoghan, beginning in the mid-1990s, he took comfort in a small circle of friends, his family, and especially his sister Catherine, who shared with him a disdain for his accusers.

In February 2002, when Middlesex Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin sentenced him to 9 to 10 years in state prison -- the maximum allowed -- she made it clear that she knew Geoghan's abuse went far beyond the swimming pool incident. The ex-priest, she said as she imposed the sentence, was a threat to any young boy "who may have the misfortune to be in contact with him."

As he was being led out of the courtroom after his conviction, Geoghan asked a court officer: "Where am I going now?"

What lay ahead was an incarceration he would consider hellish.

Placed in protective custody at MCI-Concord, Geoghan said it was not the inmates he feared, but a few Correction officers who, he said, seemed determined to exact a cruel brand of jailhouse justice.

When he was moved last spring to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the gleaming new maximum-security prison on the Lancaster-Shirley line, Geoghan said he was accepting stricter limits on his freedom in exchange for a sense of greater security. It was a sense that would prove fatally wrong.

Within weeks, Druce, a convicted killer with a white supremacist past, would move into the cell next door.

And within months, Druce's attack on Geoghan would make the former priest the central figure in a crisis of a different kind, provoking one of the most sweeping examinations of the Massachusetts prison system in state history.

"I know John did wrong," said the Rev. Maurice V. Connolly, one of Geoghan's seminary classmates. "But as I read more about the treatment he got, it was bad that that was allowed to go on in prison. John was a little old man at that point. He was kind of shriveled and frail, and he was not the type who could really stick up for himself. . .

"Now I hope his death will bring about some reform in the prison system," Connolly said.

A cold, crude culture

The protective custody unit at MCI-Concord, a dank warren of cells on three tiers, is home to sex offenders, informants, and other prisoners whose safety can't be guaranteed among the general population of more common criminals.

Geoghan's presence on the unit brought out the worst in some of the guards, his fellow inmates said.

For sport, inmates told lawyers, Geoghan was strip-searched and forced to stand naked for extended periods of time. His relationship with his sister was mocked. After guards searched his room, "it looked like a bomb hit it," one inmate said.

"A few inmates . . . said I was a `poster boy' for [Correction officers] there, many making threats of violence toward me," Geoghan wrote to a lawyer last April. "I believe it, from what I experienced."

What he had experienced since his January 2002 conviction was a cold, crude culture a world away from the comfort and deference he once enjoyed in rectory parlors in and around Boston. He was laughed at. Several times a day, he was ordered to stand for a formal prison count. His mail was opened, his phone calls monitored. His toilet was next to his bed. His $1.50 haircuts were utilitarian.

By regulation, he was issued five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks, a pair of pants, a shirt, and one religious book. His food was tasteless and, he suspected, tampered with. Each day he made his bed as required, taking care to tautly tuck the corners of his sheets with military precision. More than most, he had trouble surrendering himself to the ordinary indignities of his new life behind bars.

"Here's someone who was catered to from day one in the priesthood and throughout his years as a priest, and now he goes from being served hand-to-mouth to having to do everything for himself," said Ed Ahearn, a Correction officer and treasurer of the 4,800-member Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union.

Indeed, Geoghan struggled to leave his old world behind.

"He wanted the door held for him," a Concord inmate, also a convicted sex offender, told an attorney in September. "He wanted to be first in line. He just could not adjust to life in prison."

The inmate's impressions of Geoghan, like those of 40 other prisoners interviewed by attorneys for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, were recently made available to the Globe. In most cases, inmates approved the release of their statements with the condition that their names not be published.

The Globe also used internal prison documents; correspondence with prisoners; and interviews with inmates, Correction officers, and Geoghan's friends and family to depict his life under the care, custody, and control of the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

The picture that emerges is that of a frail man content to spend his days quietly in his cell, but willing to stand up for himself when he believed he was being treated unfairly. Even if doing so made matters worse.

When he was out of his cell, Geoghan almost always was on the telephone. On the other end of the line, everyone assumed, was his sister Catherine, a retired kindergarten teacher and his staunchest defender.

At Concord, inmates said, Geoghan was an early riser, shaving each day shortly after awakening around 5 a.m. He said prayers before breakfast, meditated afterward, and spent much of his day reading in his cell, they said.

In the early weeks of his life at Concord, the crisis in the Catholic Church dominated the headlines and newscasts in Boston and then, as the scandal mushroomed, around the country.

"When his picture appeared on TV, Geoghan would say things like, `They're making up stories.' This turned a lot of guys off," one Concord sex offender told a visiting lawyer.

The way the former priest conducted himself during prison chapel services irritated his fellow Catholic inmates. It was, they believed, as if Geoghan considered himself still worthy of the black-and-white Roman collar and colorful vestments he had disgraced.

"Geoghan still thought of himself as a priest," one inmate told a Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services lawyer. "For example, Geoghan would celebrate the Mass under his breath along with the priest. At Easter, he would offer holy water to other prisoners. That was hard to swallow."

James R. Pingeon, director of litigation for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, who conducted many of the inmate interviews, said Geoghan's conduct violated a basic prison tenet.

"There were some people who didn't take it well that Geoghan would profess his innocence, because the ethic in prison is that you just shut up about your crime," Pingeon explained. "You don't talk about it openly and publicly."

One inmate, who said he opened peanut butter jars for a weakened Geoghan and helped the older man with his laundry, said he told the unit's most conspicuous prisoner that his "big mouth" was a sure sign he was not "prison smart."

"God is looking out for me," Geoghan replied, the inmate told a lawyer.

When he believed he was being harassed, Geoghan's frequent response would be: "God bless you," several inmates said. That attitude is perhaps why several fellow inmates said they took a special delight in watching Geoghan wince when they exploited his well-known distaste for the near-constant profanity that spiced prison discourse.

"People would sometimes tease Geoghan by swearing in front of him," Pingeon said. "And Geoghan would say, `Oh, you shouldn't use that language.' And they would deliberately come up and put their arm around him and say, `How you doing, [expletive]?' They did it because they sort of enjoyed getting a rise out of Geoghan. `He was a little highfalutin,' one prisoner told me."

If Geoghan could be the object of prison ridicule, at least one inmate -- also a sex offender -- worried about his safety. He said he tried to teach Geoghan to protect himself in his new world of arsonists, rapists, and thieves.

"[The inmate] told me the story of how he would sometimes go into Geoghan's cell at Concord, and Geoghan would be looking in his locker and would have his back to him," Pingeon said. "And [the inmate would be] sitting on the toilet in Geoghan's cell. Geoghan wouldn't know he was there. And then Geoghan would turn around and see him and say, `Oh, you're going to be the death of me!' And [the inmate] would do it, partly playing with him, but also to teach him the lesson that you've got to watch your back."

Enemies in uniform

If the goal of the protective custody unit was to keep Geoghan safe from other prisoners, it seemed to be working. But his enemies at Concord, Geoghan complained, carried Correction officer badges.

"I do not recall him ever complaining to me about his treatment at the hands of other inmates," said Geoffrey C. Packard, Geoghan's trial lawyer, who now serves as a district court judge in Malden.

"One time I believe an inmate in general population, while passing in the hallway, might have bumped him," Packard said. "But certainly in the protective cellblock where he lived, my impression was that it was the ultimate live-and-let-live cellblock."

Packard said when Geoghan was asked by prison officials in the fall of 2002 if he had any enemies in prison, his answer was telling.

"Not among the inmates," Geoghan replied.

But Geoghan's notorious conduct as a priest was, of course, widely known, and he was hardly well liked in the unit.

On the days he chose to join other protective custody inmates in Concord's "chow hall," Geoghan would run a verbal gauntlet, in which general-population prisoners, from their locked cells, would shout insults and elaborate obscenities at him. The prisoners called it "Thunder Alley." And Geoghan did not escape its ferocity.

"Die in hell!"

"Geoghan, you pedophile!"

And, perhaps most frequently, "Skinner!" -- prison slang for someone who has sexually assaulted children. To Geoghan, those epithets were just unpleasant names hurled from a relatively safe distance. To avoid them, he often skipped meals, sustaining himself with food staples purchased from the prison canteen, lawyers said.

The more serious threat, the former priest frequently complained, came from a small group of Correction officers sworn to take care of him. One in particular, Correction Officer Cosmo A. Bisazza, seemed to Geoghan to be bent on tormenting him, the inmate told his legal advisers.

Bisazza, a 50-year-old Marlborough resident who moonlights as a martial arts instructor, is described by top leaders of his union as a seasoned, by-the-book officer who cuts no corners.

They dismissed accusations that Bisazza put excrement in Geoghan's cell and mercilessly haunted him. They said most of those allegations, which arose within days of Geoghan's death, are the baseless charges of anonymous inmates who, by definition, are liars, cheats, and felons. Bisazza himself, in an official disciplinary report, said Geoghan should be punished for making false claims of mistreatment.

"The thought of a Correction officer defecating or urinating on a bed is just ridiculous," said Joseph Guarino, the legislative representative for the Correction officers' union. "That's something an inmate would do."

Ahearn, the union treasurer, compared Bisazza to a well-known father figure from TV's benign black-and-white era.

"The guy's like Ward Cleaver," Ahearn said of the Concord guard.

Bisazza did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His lawyer, Francis J. DiMento Jr., declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing investigation into Geoghan's death.

But Geoghan's lawyers, accounts collected by lawyers for other inmates, and Geoghan's disciplinary record at Concord suggest that Bisazza's treatment of Geoghan was tough.

"He's sadistic, and he's a bully," Pingeon said of Bisazza. "He picks on vulnerable prisoners."

Geoghan would later tell a lawyer that from his earliest days in Concord, Bisazza took glee in posting the headlines about the convicted former priest's notorious conduct near his duty station.

"What do you think of that, Lucifer?" Geoghan said Bisazza asked him, employing a synonym for the devil.

"I will be retiring in two to three years, and I am going to make your life miserable," Geoghan said Bisazza told him, according to another legal adviser.

One of Geoghan's closest associates on the unit in Concord was Lewis S. Lent Jr., who is serving a life sentence for the 1990 murder of 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield. Lent also admitted killing 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood in New York in 1993. Her body has never been found.

Lent told a Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services lawyer that Bisazza turned on Geoghan early because of the defrocked priest's jailhouse friendship with a child killer.

"His association with me, plus Geoghan's crime, made him a target," Lent told the attorney.

Between April 2, 2002, and Oct 2, 2002, Geoghan received at least 11 disciplinary reports for violating the code of prison conduct at Concord. Bisazza wrote four of those complaints.

The details of Bisazza's alleged treatment of Geoghan are noteworthy not only because they provide intense glimpses of life behind bars. They became an important part of his formal prison record.

And when Geoghan was transferred last spring to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the Department of Correction would cite Geoghan's poor-conduct record in Concord as a reason for sending a man convicted of a single count of molestation to a maximum-security prison, where some of the most violent prisoners in Massachusetts awaited him.

"I'm certain that all these charges were trumped up," said Charles D. Houlihan Jr., Geoghan's cousin. "That's just not in John's nature. He tends to be a very stable character."

Houlihan, an attorney from Simsbury, Conn., added of Geoghan: "He was generally cheerful, calm, polite. A real gentle soul. So I can't think that those charges had any basis at all."

'Gratuitous and puerile cruelty'

Six weeks after Geoghan was sentenced to prison, he received his first disciplinary report from Bisazza.

The officer said he confronted Geoghan on April 2, "regarding a statement that [Geoghan] reported to an officer that I had placed feces inside his cell."

Geoghan would later tell fellow inmates that he was, indeed, convinced that Bisazza was behind the incident. When confronted directly by Bisazza, however, Geoghan demurred, according to the report. Geoghan insisted that he had been falsely accused of pointing the finger at Bisazza, according to the report.

Bisazza, formally identifying Geoghan by his offender identification number -- W70597 -- said he did not accept Geoghan's story. "I informed inmate Geoghan that he would receive a D-report for lying," Bisazza wrote.

Geoghan did not appeal, but he complained to his lawyer and, within days, Packard fired off a letter to William Coalter, who was then Concord's superintendent. Packard complained that Geoghan had been verbally abused and at least once physically assaulted. Packard attributed the misconduct to "a few corrections officers."

"I would think that it goes without saying that, notwithstanding the allegations against him and the feelings that they might engender, my client has a right simply to be left alone and not subjected to gratuitous and puerile cruelty," Packard wrote.

"If there are officers who are unable to master their emotions sufficiently to discharge their duties professionally, perhaps they should be transferred to less taxing assignments. I remain hopeful that these isolated instances can be eliminated entirely."

It's not clear what steps, if any, Coalter took after receiving the complaint from Geoghan's lawyer. But Geoghan was not cited for misconduct again for more than two months.

In mid-June, Geoghan got two disciplinary reports within two hours. Bisazza cited him for having a medication in his cell that was beyond its expiration date for legal use. The officer confiscated the medication and placed it in a drawer. Geoghan got a second citation later that morning for imploring another officer to retrieve the medication while Bisazza was busy escorting prisoners to lunch.

"Inmate Geoghan attempted to convince me that the medication wasn't expired, and that [Bisazza] was against him," the second officer wrote.

In fact, Geoghan would later receive a memo from Lorene Melvin, the prison's health services administrator, noting "that it was the nurses fault that your stop date on [the medication] had run over." The memo told Geoghan he had the right to appeal his one-week loss of canteen privileges.

On Aug. 2, Geoghan's disciplinary record worsened. Again he was written up twice in two hours.

Bisazza said he heard Geoghan complain about him to a prison sergeant. "This man has prevented me from getting my mail and haircuts," Geoghan said, according to Bisazza's report. He wrote Geoghan up for lying and insolence and for using a threatening gesture. Bisazza said Geoghan "pointed his finger at my face and shouted."

Two hours later, Correction Officer Charles Haley accused Geoghan of calling him a "fool" in front of other inmates. "When asked why he called me a fool, he pointed his finger at me and stated, `Watch it, watch it,' in a threatening manner," Haley wrote in his report on the incident.

Packard represented Geoghan at a disciplinary hearing on the charges, but his 15-day room restriction and reprimand were upheld. "Verbal statements made by inmates to disrespect officers/staff will not be tolerated here at MCI-Concord," the hearing officer concluded.

Geoghan received another citation on Aug. 15 for allegedly calling another correction officer an obscenity and a "clown" during an exchange in the prison's visiting room. The officer said Geoghan later denied it, telling the officer: "You're a disgrace. You're a disgrace as an officer."

In his own defense, Geoghan would later write on a prison form about his alleged use of the epithet: "I've never used the word . . . in my life."

But it didn't work. He lost his phone, canteen, and visitation privileges for six weeks.

"This inmate seems to have a disturbing habit of saying things to officers he doesn't remember, causing the officer to consistently reprimand him," a hearing officer concluded.

Packard had had enough.

He wrote another scornful letter to Coalter, the prison superintendent at the time, complaining about Geoghan's treatment, "although I suspect that it is a waste of my time."

Bisazza and Haley were routinely addressing Geoghan as "Satan," or "Lucifer," Packard reported.

"They have repeatedly suggested that he engages in sexual intercourse with his sister (a frail spinster in her late sixties); they have ransacked his cell in futile searches for contraband and have damaged or destroyed personal items, some of a religious nature," Packard wrote in the Aug. 16 letter.

"It is nearly impossible to read the officers' accounts without inferring that they are part of a vendetta."

Haley did not respond to requests for comment.

Packard said Geoghan had made his complaints either directly to Coalter and to his lieutenants, or through his sister and lawyer. "As far as any of us can determine, they have been either ignored or dismissed," Packard wrote.

Coalter, in a return letter, assured Packard that Geoghan's alleged mistreatment would be investigated and "will not be ignored." If Coalter interceded on Geoghan's behalf, legal advocates never learned of it.

One of the most serious offenses lodged against Geoghan at Concord -- and the one he argued most vociferously against -- occurred in the prison's visiting room in full view of his sister on Sept. 5.

According to Geoghan's written account, Haley escorted him to the visiting center early that afternoon, where Catherine Geoghan waited to see her brother.

"At door of the visiting building, [Haley] said, `Don't stir up trouble in the visiting room today,' " according to Geoghan's handwritten account of the incident.

By Geoghan's account, which was incorporated into his disciplinary record, he had just checked in for his visit, leaving his prison identification card in a wall slot, when Correction Officer Jason Harris rushed toward him in full view of his sister. "He passed her and with eye contact with me, veered into my path and hit me with his right shoulder (a strong body check), which slammed my right shoulder and `spun me' around. (I'm almost 70 years old)," Geoghan wrote.

Geoghan said he was verbally harassed moments later by another officer during his visit with his sister. Then, Geoghan said, Harris "smirked and said some expletive."

Geoghan could not restrain himself.

"I said quietly, `You assaulted me. Period!' Then returned to my visitor who had heard and seen all," he said.

Attempts to reach Harris were not successful. He no longer works for the prison system.

The Department of Correction's official version of the Geoghan-Harris encounter is dramatically different from the former priest's.

An investigating officer insisted that it was Geoghan who bumped Harris. It was Geoghan who falsely accused Harris of assault. It was Geoghan who lied and concocted a story "with the sole intention of bringing false assault charges against the officer."

For this offense, Geoghan lost his access to the phone and to his canteen. And he surrendered his visitation rights -- the privilege that meant the most to him -- for six weeks.

"Phone calls and visits meant contact with his sister," said one lawyer familiar with Geoghan's treatment at Concord. "And you didn't need to be a genius to know that if anything was keeping this guy going, it was his ability to have contact with his sister. And they knew that the way to really get to this guy was to cut him off from his sister."

A public voice

In her only public statement about the death of her brother, Catherine Geoghan said the things she saw from the visiting room in Concord and the stories she heard from her brother made the horror stories of prison life all too real.

"To say that prison life is harsh fails to acknowledge the enormous difficulty of that experience," she said in a prepared statement in October. "John always conducted himself respectfully and as a gentleman and received fair treatment from many prisoners and guards. Other guards abused him terribly, and with seeming impunity."

Catherine Geoghan said the "body check" Geoghan absorbed in MCI-Concord's visiting room in September 2002 was not jailhouse fiction.

"A guard had assaulted John as he approached me in the visitor room," she said. "The prison official to whom I complained disputed my report, and then lied to me, fabricating the story that he saw John attack the guard when I know that he did not. By inventing a story to protect the guard, that official clearly communicated to me not only John's vulnerability to the whims of abusive guards, but the prison's ability to manipulate the disciplinary and grievance procedures to hide mistreatment. No honest person would believe that John was a discipline problem."

His sister was giving public voice to the helplessness Geoghan privately expressed during his final months at Concord.

Bisazza, he said, would not let up.

He wrote Karen DiNardo, Concord's director of classification, on Oct. 11 to complain that Bisazza had accused him of misconduct in prison that echoed the crime for which he was imprisoned.

"In the presence of Charles Haley and [a former Geoghan cellmate] and the other inmates, [he] accused me of touching [the cellmate] inappropriately," Geoghan wrote to DiNardo, according to correspondence viewed by the Globe.

Geoghan said that when he turned to confront his former cellmate about his accusation, "his response was to laugh and say, `I said it. Ya,' " Geoghan reported.

For Geoghan, who had insisted since his arrival that he was innocent of sexual misconduct -- set up, he said, by "dysfunctional" accusers -- this was too much.

"This is calumny, an outright lie and libel," Geoghan told DiNardo. "I've never touched [the former cellmate] or any inmate ever in an inappropriate way. I will immediately inform my attorney, Mr. Geoffrey Packard, [about] this new offense, and he will be in contact on this matter as well as others."

The outraged inmate signed his letter: "Respectfully, John J. Geoghan. W70597."

By early November, Geoghan was marveling at the relentless, and unquestioned, authority of his keepers.

"I am amazed at the audacity of the institution!" Geoghan wrote a legal adviser. "To this `novice,' it appears that some union has achieved `Godly powers' and some small tail is wagging the dog. I am most willing to wait and endure the privation [unjust]. Still no visits, phone, canteen until Dec. 5th.

"And Cosmo Bisazza, Chuck Haley, and [another Correction officer] are harassing me daily, hoping to start up new disciplinary reports. I forgot [Jason] Harris!!! They are `minions of Satan!' I never encountered anything like this before. My feeling is this: My sister is in poor health and no calls and visits are as stressful to her as to me."

For the first time, Geoghan considered pushing for a transfer that would deliver him from the Correction officers at Concord, perhaps to a jurisdiction outside of Department of Correction control.

And as Christmas approached, his thoughts remained with his sister, the only surviving member of his immediate family.

He was determined to do almost anything to make sure he did not lose touch with her.


A priest by turns demanding and timid trod prison's path

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff  |  December 1, 2003

Second of three parts

On the eve of his first Christmas in prison, John J. Geoghan sat in his cell on the brink of despair -- and surrender.

The torments he said he suffered at the hands of a few correction officers had worn him down.

The sanction they had imposed for offenses Geoghan insisted were trumped up stung too much: For 12 weeks, the defrocked priest's ability to talk with or see his older sister Catherine had been taken away.

Since childhood, the two had been inseparable. And now she was his treasured connection to the world beyond the walls.

And so, the 67-year-old Geoghan suggested he was ready to abandon the losing battle he'd been waging against the guards and the rules of the medium-security prison to which he'd been sentenced.

"After eighty-four days of no contact with my seriously ill sister, we are finally back in contact, but only on the phone as I am afraid of our safety in personal visits," Geoghan wrote in a Dec. 24, 2002, letter to a legal adviser. ". . . I think I now have decided I am only interested in survival and keeping out of difficulty so I do not lose contact with my sister."

For Geoghan, survival meant not only securing his personal safety, but continuing his unlikely bid to prove his innocence. He wanted to be free to focus on the appeal of his conviction for fondling a 10-year-old boy in a Waltham swimming pool.

Better to reserve his energies for that cause than to live in fear at MCI-Concord.

Better perhaps to consider a transfer to another prison where he might be left alone.

"Unfortunately, I've found myself so vulnerable I shy away from justice," Geoghan wrote to his adviser, in correspondence made available to the Globe. "My goal now is only my appeals. . . . May the Lord continue to `grace' you in your precious work and bless your grandchildren. With the greatest respect, I am John Geoghan."

Geoghan was, from the start, a strange sort of inmate, a man with remarkably little self-awareness of what had landed him behind bars.

His church had paid $10 million to settle 84 complaints against him. He had been tried and convicted in the criminal case. He had admitted, to a psychiatrist, that he had fondled children since the early 1960s, and that he was still sexually attracted to little boys.

Yet he carried himself as an innocent.

His insistence that he had been wrongly accused and convicted was one of the things that rankled some of the Correction officers who controlled his prison existence. It also irked many of his fellow inmates -- murderers, robbers, and rapists who looked upon a pedophile as the lowest form of prison life.

In their eyes, Geoghan was also something of a fool. He showed no respect for a key part of the unspoken prison code: Inmates who want to be left alone should keep a low profile, bowing to the petty tyrannies of the cellblock.

John Geoghan wasn't built that way.

He wasn't one to just let it pass -- as a more pliant, or canny, prisoner would have done -- when, as he alleged, he was body-checked by a guard in Concord's visiting room last year.

"You assaulted me," he told the officer. It was a remark for which he paid dearly, losing his access to the telephone and to the visitation room, his only opportunities to talk to his sister.

Inmates who watched Geoghan were puzzled by his behavior.

"One inmate told me that Geoghan, in his naivete, must have been given bad advice by other prisoners," said James R. Pingeon, director of litigation for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. "He was told to follow up instead of letting go. If a guard is abusing you, harassing you, this man's view is you let go, ignore it. Geoghan may have been advised to not let go. And that just brings down the abuse even more."

When he felt set upon, or believed he was being unjustly accused, Geoghan could grow prickly and indignant.

When left alone, many fellow inmates said, he was typically timid, polite, almost childlike.

One man serving a sentence for second-degree murder who asked that his name be withheld, said in a telephone interview from the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center -- the facility to which Geoghan was transferred -- that the former priest was the "most naive person I've met in 30 years in prison."

"I tried to educate him," the prisoner said. "He didn't know anything about the rules or regulations. He didn't know how to talk to people. He didn't know what to say around people. . . . He was a very passive man, and when you were around him you could tell that. And when inmates see that they take full advantage. It's like meat for a shark. They just attack it."

Those contrasting personality traits -- fuming when accused of misconduct, timid when left to himself -- would be familiar to those who knew him as a priest who often vexed his superiors with overweening demands, but made no mark among clergy, except, of course, as a sexual criminal.

That was back in the days when Christmas Eve for Father John J. Geoghan meant he was the contented center of attention, celebrating Mass at midnight in brightly lit churches decked with holiday greens.

Something monstrous

From the summer of 1996, when he was first publicly tied to the sexual assault of children, to the summer of 2003, when he was strangled on the floor of his prison cell, Geoghan's name has conjured up something monstrous.

He personified the Roman Catholic Church's clergy sexual abuse crisis, a scandal that sent tremors through the American church and forced Cardinal Bernard F. Law to resign in disgrace last December.

Geoghan exploited the prestige of his Roman collar to sexually attack little boys, sometimes fondling them, sometimes doing much more. The children's parents, proud to have a priest in the house, gave him unquestioned access.

Even those who loved him acknowledge the etched-in horror of those images, and how they have obscured Geoghan's residual, fractured humanity.

"You get attached with a label as he has been, and all other adjectives and descriptions just fade away because it's so spectacular," said Charles D. Houlihan Jr., Geoghan's cousin and a lawyer from Simsbury, Conn. "It's difficult to believe that anybody accused as he has been has vital human qualities, and John did."

During a lengthy interview about the life and death of his cousin, Houlihan said Geoghan was failed by two institutions. He said the Catholic Church could have given Geoghan an administrative post at the earliest sign of his abuse. The state Department of Correction should have been able to keep an obvious target for violence safe from harm, he said.

"I think the church failed John," Houlihan said. "There could have been a lot done to meet their obligations and give John an opportunity to do something useful."

When Houlihan remembers his cousin, his mind's eye focuses not on the prisoner or the pedophile, but on the smiling priest who once proudly introduced him and his sister to parishioners one Sunday morning during Mass in Weston.

"The John Geoghan that I know is a genuinely likable man who is sensitive to others and cares deeply about others," Houlihan said.

And, Houlihan said, Geoghan cared about no one more than his sister Catherine. He wrote to her from prison nearly every day.

"His faith and his sister were his two comforts," Geoghan's cousin said.

But the letters were not a daily diary of the mistreatment Geoghan said he endured in the protective custody unit at Concord, where he told his lawyer that his nickname was "Satan" and where he once found feces smeared in his cell.

Instead, Geoghan wrote about the banalities of prison life: the food he ate, the exercise he got, and how he still managed to worship God from the privacy of his small cell.

"John was very protective of Cathy," Houlihan said. "She's had health issues. He did not want his worries to exacerbate her health issues. . . . And so, in that tenor . . . his letters were very protective of her feelings. He could have been sitting on a beach somewhere."

From their earliest days, young "Jackie" Geoghan and his sister were constant companions, neighbors and childhood acquaintances recalled. While other neighborhood children ran off to buy penny candy at the nearby convenience store, or to romp along Sand Hills Beach in Scituate, the Geoghan children clung tightly to the hem of their mother's skirt.

Their summer house in Scituate, shuttered now for the winter, overlooks the ocean. For years, the Geoghans religiously observed an evening ritual, walking with their mother on a two-mile loop down to the historic lighthouse that guards the entrance to Scituate Harbor.

It was a routine that they would continue into adulthood -- even after their mother's death in 1994.

"They were so meek and just very childlike, both of them," one summer neighbor said. "The way they carried themselves -- just their sweetness -- you just wondered whether they were naive. Even as adults, they always struck me as very childlike."

Brush with the law

Protected for years by the secret ways of his archdiocesan bosses, John Geoghan's first close brush with the law -- the first time he worried that his conduct could land him in jail -- came five days after Christmas in 1994.

Police and the Middlesex County district attorney's office began investigating charges of Geoghan's sexual misconduct with boys from a Waltham housing complex. The boys said the priest had pulled down their pants. Investigators said Geoghan also talked inappropriately with the children on the telephone about their sexual development.

Six hours after the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, an archdiocesan official, alerted Dr. Edward Messner, a Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist, about Geoghan's alleged misconduct, Geoghan was sitting across from Messner in the doctor's office on Boston's Emerson Place.

In some ways, the priest told the psychiatrist on Dec. 30, 1994, he felt dead already.

With police and prosecutors closing in, Geoghan would meet with Messner 40 times over the next year and a half. The therapy sessions, and accompanying psychiatric reports, are a window into Geoghan's psyche, yielding details about his persona that would resonate later in his conduct as a prisoner.

"I feel depressed, tired, and beaten -- on the verge of death row," Geoghan told Messner. "I feel condemned."

Geoghan confided to his psychiatrist that he had been molesting boys as far back as the early 1960s, according to Messner's December 2001 deposition, during which the doctor read directly from his session notes with Geoghan.

Geoghan "admits to his share of fondling children years ago," Messner testified. "He says that he was never out of control. `It was wrong, however,' he said."

As Martha Coakley, then Middlesex County's assistant district attorney, built a case against him, Geoghan resisted suggestions of a plea bargain. He referred to his accusers' mother as a "poor slob." He vowed to "avoid dysfunctional families in the future."

"He had tried to help the poor, unfortunate woman," Catherine Geoghan would later say, when asked about the accusations during a deposition in 2002. "And then she turned on him."

Though well aware of his legal peril, Geoghan's outward manner seemed strangely nonchalant, as if he believed that his troubles would be behind him soon.

He traveled with his elderly uncle, Monsignor Mark Keohane, to Ireland in the spring of 1995 and returned with a gift package of three nips of Bailey's Irish Cream for Messner. That summer, he spent time at the family home in Scituate, reading, praying, and renewing an interest in golf.

That fall, he played tour guide, escorting friends from Ireland to see the cranberry bogs of Plymouth County and the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.

He helped his sister clean her attic. He harvested hay from salt marshes for use in his garden. He celebrated Mass with his 93-year-old uncle, a man he considered "the perfect substitute father." His own father died before Geoghan had turned 6.

He was cheered when, in June 1996, the archdiocese allowed him to celebrate the funeral Mass of his childhood friend, Maurice J. Tobin Jr., the son of the former governor. Tobin's father also had been Harry Truman's labor secretary. Geoghan told the congregation about a summer's day in Scituate when the White House switchboard tried to reach Tobin at his summer home.

A young Jackie Geoghan and his playmate, the younger Tobin, answered the phone. The two boys, in disbelief that the leader of the free world was really on the other end of the line, had inadvertently harassed the president of the United States.

In an otherwise miserable summer for Geoghan, it was a rarity, a fond and funny moment.

During his therapy sessions, he told Messner that at one meeting with Father Flatley, the archdiocesan official pronounced Geoghan "a pedophile, a liar, and a manipulator."

And, Geoghan acknowledged to his psychiatrist, he was still having sexual impulses for boys.

Near the end of his sessions with Messner, Geoghan was examined by a Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist. The traits of Geoghan-the-patient would later exhibit themselves in Geoghan-the-prisoner.

"He was reluctant to admit to minor faults," Mark Alan Blais, the MGH psychologist, reported. "This finding reflects both his conscious effort to present himself in a positive light, and a deeper character-based deficit in his ability to accurately apprise the quality of his behavior and actions."

In an earlier assessment, another psychiatrist had deemed Geoghan to be "markedly immature, and prone to cyclical acting out often in sexual ways. . . . We thus believe that Father Geoghan is at high risk."

Coakley thought so, too.

Her office investigated Geoghan's misconduct in Waltham but was unable to find sufficient grounds for criminal charges.

Geoghan's lewd talk with minors on the telephone was useful merely as leverage, she said, to make sure Geoghan was barred from further contact with children.

Only later, she said, did she learn the breadth of Geoghan's abuse.

"He was the perfect storm of someone who apparently had a sexual predilection for children," Coakley said.

By the time Coakley would see Geoghan in court again, his misconduct would be the talk of the nation.

His archdiocesan superiors would order him into a treatment center, force him into retirement, strip him of his church-subsidized apartment, and deny his request to even maintain a mailbox at his former church quarters.

Geoghan began planning for a new life, telling friends he looked forward to taking college courses in creative writing and computer science.

In the summer of 1998, Cardinal Law announced that Geoghan had been defrocked. "This man can never again present himself as a priest," Law said.

When lawyers later asked Catherine Geoghan how her brother reacted to Law's move to strip him of the Roman collar of which he was so proud, the former priest's sister replied: "Well, just that he's made a grave mistake. . . . He prays for [Law] every day."

That summer on the patio of their summer home in Scituate, where she and her brother had spent summers with their mother and uncle since 1953, the relatives of one of Geoghan's alleged victims paid an unwelcome visit.

"They came and sat," Catherine Geoghan said in a Sept. 8, 2000, deposition. "I had to call the police. They told the police they weren't sitting there, they were just waiting for Father Geoghan. They moved onto the sea wall. They put down their chairs, their water bottles, their drinks, their binoculars, their cameras.

"That's the kind of people you're dealing with."

And under oath that day, Catherine Geoghan made it clear that her brother -- by then a multiply diagnosed pedophile -- had not told her what he had openly acknowledged to his therapists.

Asked if her brother got upset about reports that he was abusing children, Catherine Geoghan replied: "Of course he's upset. Because they're all false charges."

Attack at the Boys and Girls Club

The sexual attacks of John J. Geoghan were as many as they were depraved.

He assaulted children in his car, in their homes, and in public places.

Frank Leary, the fifth of six children raised by a single mother on welfare, said Geoghan lured him to his upstairs bedroom in the rectory of St. Andrew's Church in Jamaica Plain in the summer of 1974. The priest placed the boy on his lap and fondled him through his shorts as they recited the Hail Mary together, he said.

Maryetta Dussourd also encountered Geoghan at St. Andrew's.

She was raising her own four children -- three boys and a girl -- and her niece's four boys. Geoghan, she said, was regularly molesting the seven boys, on one occasion taking one of them overnight to his family home in West Roxbury, where Geoghan's elderly mother lived.

The boy cried and asked Geoghan to stop when the priest attacked him in the middle of the night. The next morning at breakfast, when Geoghan's mother asked him about the nighttime weeping, Geoghan explained it away.

"He said it was only his first time away from home and that's why he was crying," Dussourd said.

For years, Geoghan's heinous misconduct was beyond the reach of prosecutors, barred by the statute of limitations from pressing criminal charges.

That changed in late 1999, when Middlesex County prosecutors indicted Geoghan for misconduct that -- compared with many of his attacks -- was hardly his most abhorrent. They said Geoghan had squeezed a 10-year-old boy on the backside in the pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in 1991.

It would prove to be his passport to prison.

"In the scheme of things -- and I know this has been much talked about -- this doesn't seem like a big deal, does it?" Coakley, now the Middlesex County district attorney, said in an interview.

But she said Geoghan "was someone who was a dangerous guy in terms of kids. And that's why we brought the charges."

Geoghan's trial took place in January 2002 amid the full fury of media coverage about Geoghan's history of sexual misconduct and the church's efforts to cover it up.

During his opening statement on Jan. 16, 2002, Geoghan's lawyer, Geoffrey C. Packard, told the jury that the case before them was hardly complex.

"The allegation, in a nutshell, in the fall of 1991, when [the victim] was 10 years old and a fifth-grader at the Plympton School, he went to the swimming pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club, and he says that John Geoghan squeezed his butt once," Packard said. "He got out of the pool, and he told his mother. That's it. Just about everything else is embellishment and window dressing."

Coakley said the case against Geoghan was hardly a slam dunk. But the testimony of the victim -- straightforward, earnest, and without theatrics -- seemed to register with the jury.

Then a 20-year-old college junior, Geoghan's victim testified that he was trying to teach himself to dive that day, a skill that most of his young friends had acquired. Geoghan swam over and offered to help, issuing verbal instructions for 10 to 15 minutes.

The boy said he recognized the priest because he had seen him driving through his neighborhood.

"As I dived into the pool, Father Geoghan grabbed my butt," the victim testified. "It was kind of like bells went off. I got really nervous.

"I was embarrassed," the victim testified, adding that he quickly swam away. "I was nervous, scared."

In her closing argument to the jury, prosecutor Lynn C. Rooney acknowledged that Geoghan's conduct in the Waltham pool, was not "the most egregious act of sexual touching."

"But when a grown man puts his hand inside the shorts of a 10-year-old boy and touches skin on skin, it is wrong," Rooney said. "It is indecent. And it is a crime."

The jurors agreed. After deliberating for eight hours, they convicted Geoghan, then 66.

"Where am I going now?" Geoghan asked as he was led away.

He was headed for his first night in jail.

All that was left for the court was to decide on Geoghan's punishment.

Packard, noting that Geoghan had no prior convictions and perhaps suffered from a psychological disorder, asked Middlesex Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin to sentence him to three years of probation and close supervision that could include electronic monitoring.

"Were it not for the storm of publicity that surrounds him -- if his name were John Smith and not John Geoghan -- this defendant would almost undoubtedly be placed on probation," Packard said in his sentencing memorandum.

He urged Hamlin not sacrifice Geoghan "on the altar of public opinion."

"He was and is also, Your Honor, a good brother to his sister, Catherine, his sole remaining direct family, a woman who has stood by his side, as he has by her, for many years," Packard told Hamlin at the Feb. 21, 2002, sentencing hearing.

But Hamlin was unmoved.

She accepted Rooney's recommendation for the maximum sentence possible, nine to 10 years in state prison, and made it clear that while the jury considered evidence of a single instance of abuse, she was considering Geoghan's admission that he molested "other boys for whom he was not ever charged."

Geoghan, Hamlin concluded, was a "dangerous pedophile."

With that, Geoghan was driven from Cambridge to his new home at MCI-Concord.

He could have been freed in six years.

A dangerous transfer

As a new year dawned last January, Geoghan maintained his self-imposed moratorium on visits with his sister.

They would continue to speak only by telephone.

"Cathy and I agree strongly on no visits," Geoghan wrote last January in a letter to the Rev. Richard J. Butler, the secretary of his 1962 graduating class at St. John's Seminary and now a pastor in Stow. "I've been threatened by the guards, and she has been hassled and roughly treated."

What Geoghan considered mistreatment at the hands of a few rogue guards, senior state Department of Correction officials considered a symptom of a chronic inmate discipline problem that had to be addressed.

By then, the department had notified the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union that it was planning to open a new protective custody unit at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley for inmates considered too aggressive for the unit Geoghan occupied at Concord.

But before Geoghan could be considered a candidate for the new Level 6 facility -- maximum security -- his case would have to be considered by a department classification board. The panel was composed of a Correction officer and two Correctional program officers. It examined Geoghan's criminal history, considered whether he had enemies at Concord, and reviewed his family situation and academic background.

After undertaking that review in March, the classification board voted 3-0 to keep Geoghan in Concord, a medium-security facility.

"They were going to do their job," said Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. "They were not going to send this guy off to Souza just because they had guard problems. Is he a violent prisoner? No. Then he shouldn't be a Level 6 prisoner."

But within days, the panel's recommendation was overridden.

Scott Anderson, MCI-Concord's deputy superintendent, and Lori Cresey, the Department of Correction's deputy director of central classification, ruled that Geoghan should be shipped to higher security. Diane Silva, the prison system's director of classification, agreed.

Geoghan was headed for Shirley. He told a legal adviser that he received news directly from Cresey after he was cited yet again for misconduct.

"This was based on Mr. Geoghan's accumulation of [12] disciplinary reports and his overall poor institutional adjustments at MCI-Concord," said Kelly Nantel, a department spokeswoman.

But lawyers for inmates and one former Department of Correction official familiar with Geoghan's classification said other factors were at work.

"The [Correction officers] union wanted him out of there," the former Department of Correction official told the Globe. "They wanted this guy moved."

The 4,800-member Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union said it had nothing to do with Geoghan's transfer. "As far as the accusations that we lobbied the administration, that's false," said Robert W. Brouillette, the union's business agent. "We never did that."

However, one inmate in the protective custody unit at Concord told Pingeon, the legal services litigation director, that two or three days after Geoghan left for Shirley, Anderson was walking through the Concord unit.

The deputy superintendent cordially greeted Correction Officer Cosmo A. Bisazza, the guard Geoghan alleged constantly harassed him, according to the inmate's account.

"You finally got what you wanted," Anderson told Bisazza, according to the inmate's account.

Justin Latini, the Department of Correction's public affairs director, declined to answer questions about the circumstances of Geoghan's transfer or about details of his incarceration, citing the pending investigation.

Houlihan, Geoghan's cousin from Connecticut, said if the Department of Correction had focused on the complaints lodged against Geoghan's guards, the classification board's recommendation would have been sustained.

"Maybe protective custody in Concord is an appropriate place to be if the guards aren't harassing and abusing you," Houlihan said.

Walker called Geoghan's transfer the product of the Department of Correction's long-standing inclination to send as many prisoners as possible to higher-security prisons.

"What I think happened is what happens all the time," Walker said. "It's a mess. There's this objective, point-based system on paper that is completely ignored and overridden based on politics, union contracts, the weather. We have no idea."

If Geoghan fought the transfer to Souza-Baranowski, there is no formal record of it, according to his legal advisers.

And if the decision to move him into maximum security was an administrative blunder, a violation of common-sense policy-making, after 13 months at MCI-Concord, Geoghan himself seemed at peace with the change.

Walker visited him in the maximum-security prison's clean and brightly lit visitors' room just after his arrival in early April.

Geoghan, she said, was frail, stooped, and pallid.

But he told her he found his food warm and palatable. He raved about the condiments.

"This is a guy who had had such a bad time that being able to actually put his own condiments on his own food meant a great deal to him," Walker said.

He did not have as much free time as he had at Concord.

"It's worth trading liberty for security," Geoghan told the lawyer.

Geoghan, now in a single cell, said he was occupying himself by reading, writing, and praying.

Above all, he said, he felt safe.

"Compared to Concord, he was very happy at Souza-Baranowski," Walker said, recounting her early-spring visit.

Within weeks, Geoghan would have a new next-door neighbor.

Until 1999, he was known as Darrin Smiledge, a self-described neo-Nazi serving a life sentence for murder.

But now he had a new identity.

His name was Joseph Druce.


Behind walls, trouble built to a brutal end

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff  |  December 2, 2003

Last of three parts

On the day before he died, John J. Geoghan savored an unusual prison pleasure.

He won his regular game of rummy in the back of the jailhouse gym.

"That was a rarity for John," said Robert K. Assad, a Fall River arsonist who shared Geoghan's protective custody unit at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center and was a regular at the card game. "We had to teach him how to play."

The gleaming maximum-security prison that straddles the Lancaster-Shirley line had been the defrocked priest's home since April.

There, he would complain to his fellow inmates and his lawyer, he was still an occasional target of verbal taunts from prisoners who reviled him as a brand of criminal worse, in their eyes, than a killer: a pedophile.

But he was relieved to be 18 miles and a world away from MCI-Concord, where he felt some correction officers took pleasure in tormenting him.

From his new home in Cell No. 2 -- within 20 feet of the guards' duty station -- Geoghan watched approvingly as his new keepers patrolled one of the most secure units in one of the state's newest prisons.

"The unit is run strictly," Geoghan wrote in May to a legal adviser, in correspondence reviewed by the Globe. "There is more isolation than Concord but far greater security.

"I have experienced no problems with the guards within the unit. They do their work well. . . . A very few make snide or inappropriate remarks. Only a few directed at me."

The two-tiered cell block was designed to hold 64 inmates. By mid-April there were 21, leaving the upper tier of cells vacant. Geoghan was part of a small community of felons who needed special protection from the prison's general population. For the most part, Geoghan kept to himself, content to remain in his cell, even when he was not locked in, inmates said. When he was out, he was often on the telephone with his sister, his closest surviving relative.

"He talked about his sister Catherine, and I said: `Wow. You look just like your sister,' " one inmate, also a sex offender, said in a telephone interview from the prison. "He said: `That's my best friend I have. She's a wonderful lady. She's sticking by me.' "

The inmate, in prison for 30 years and on Geoghan's unit until June, said Geoghan told him his lawyer believed he had a good chance of having his conviction for groping a 10-year-old boy overturned on appeal.

"He had a fear of dying in prison like most people did," said the inmate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He used to say how he would sometimes call home just to get his old answering machine message. He said, `To hear my voice there just reminds me of when I was there.' "

But his homestead, a well-tended Colonial on Pelton Street in West Roxbury, where Geoghan and his sister had hosted dinner parties and family gatherings, was a melancholic memory now.

His new home was a narrow room with a metal bunk, two shelves, a toilet attached to a small sink, and a footlocker for his belongings. The mirror on his cell's wall was a small piece of shiny metal that provided a blurred reflection.

Three or four times a week, Geoghan would join a four-person card game in the back of the prison's gym. The inmates, like schoolboys in a lunchroom, always took the same seats.

Geoghan sat across from Assad, 26, the slightly built arsonist who set fire to a Fall River apartment house in 2001. Robert Malloy, a 59-year-old child rapist, sat to Geoghan's right. To his left was Ronald J. Kelley, 50, a former Gill police chief who pleaded guilty to larceny in 2001 and was convicted of rape in 1991.

Assad, in an interview last month, said Geoghan was "real laid back." Occasionally he would accuse Assad of cheating. A smiling Assad acknowledged to a recent visitor that, in fact, he sometimes did.

During the games, Assad said, Geoghan would sometimes deride those who had accused him of sexual abuse as participants in a "money scheme" who had "come out of the woodwork."

Other times he would ruefully recall his alleged harassment by correction officers at Concord.

At Souza-Baranowski, there were only occasional echoes of such misery.

"Some [correction officers] show `palpable distain' [sic] and prisoners feel it," Geoghan wrote in mid-April. ". . .So far I have been treated well other than the `expected' under breath mumbling from a few [correction officers] as I pass in movement from unit to gym or library. I can handel [sic] that."

One inmate said correction officers would sometimes use the gym's public address system to assail the former priest.

"God's going to get you."

"You're going to burn in hell."

The prison slang for a child molester is "skinner." To taunt Geoghan, some officers used the word in a parody of the opening of a prayer used in Catholic confession.

"Bless me, Father, for I have skinned," the guards would announce, the inmate said.

By late May, a new prisoner had moved into the protective custody unit. Joseph L. Druce was assigned to Cell No. 3, one door down from Geoghan.

Druce did not play cards. But one inmate said he would linger nearby, and seemed to enjoy rankling his new neighbor.

"Why don't you kill yourself and save the state some money," Druce told Geoghan, according to one inmate's account. "I'm glad I wasn't an altar boy."

For Geoghan, Druce's arrival marked the beginning of trouble in the special cellblock known internally as J1.

`He didn't bother no one'

The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center sits on a rolling 18-acre slice of land that straddles the Lancaster-Shirley line a few hundred yards off Route 2.

It is named for James R. Souza, 29, a correction officer, and Alfred Baranowski, 54, a prison cement shop instructor, who were murdered by an inmate at the old Norfolk Prison Colony on July 31, 1972.

The prison that bears the slain correction workers' names is the antithesis of the prison where they died. The $110 million maximum-security prison is a brightly lit place with shiny, tiled floors, where 1,000 prisoners are kept in a computer-controlled, year-round climate of 68 degrees.

Before the unit that housed Geoghan opened last spring, the union representing guards pressed to increase the per-shift staffing from two officers to three. It was, they argued, an issue of safety.

"They basically just chuckled and said, `We're not doing that,' " said Robert W. Brouillette, business agent for the correction officers union.

In its formal reply, the state said its plan for the prison system's second protective custody unit represented a "relatively minor" change from the way other units were operated. "The . . . unit [J1] will be staffed with the same number of Correction Officers as the regular units at SBCC and will house the same number of inmates [not more than 64]."

The two correction officers assigned to Geoghan's unit used a touch-screen computer to open and close the cell doors and to control the unit's lights, power, fire alarm, and public address system. Another computer kept track of disciplinary reports, scheduling, and the head counts for which prisoners had to stand in their cells at 6:30 and 11:10 a.m. and 4:20 and 9:40 p.m.

Inmates say the unblinking eye of the prison's 366 cameras makes prisoners and correction officers alike think twice before breaking the rules, much less resorting to violence.

Jordan Rice, a 30-year-old murderer and arsonist, said Geoghan, who had struggled in his 13 months in Concord, seemed to have adapted to a more tranquil life behind bars. He finally seemed to have mastered the unofficial prison "code" of keeping your head down if you want to be left alone.

"He was very thick-skinned," Rice, who befriended Geoghan, said in a telephone interview from prison.

Rice said an inmate once asked Geoghan, "How many little boys have you touched in your life?" Geoghan, he said, smiled thinly and kept walking.

"He didn't bother no one," Rice said. "One time after I got to know him, I told him I had been around [convicted child molester Gerald] Amirault, I've been around [child killer Charles] Jaynes. And I said, `You don't fit the criteria.'

"He said: `Thank you for saying that. And even if I did touch a little boy's buttocks, it doesn't warrant me getting 8 to 10 years.' "

Rice said he shared his newspaper with Geoghan and the two talked politics. Geoghan, he recalled, thought the Democrats made a mistake choosing Boston, a liberal enclave, for their 2004 national convention. "And neither of us liked Howard Dean because he's pro-abortion," said Rice, who was raised a Baptist.

Once, Rice said, he pressed Geoghan about his sex life, and Geoghan told him, "I've never been with a woman." The defrocked priest said that a beautiful but disturbed woman from a "prominent Massachusetts family," had once pursued him romantically, but that he had managed to fend her off.

Rice said Geoghan, who had celebrated his 68th birthday on June 4, was one of the lectors during church services in the prison's 75-seat cinderblock chapel. He would explain to Rice the mysteries of the rosary and biblical teachings.

But just before 7 p.m. on Aug. 1, Geoghan lost Rice as a cellblock companion.

That evening, there was a fight in the gym. Rice accused Druce of stealing away his usual handball teammate, a 35-year-old inmate named David A. Boyce.

"I said, `No. You're not punking me off my handball partner,' " Rice said he told Druce. Druce replied with an obscenity.

Raised voices turned into raised fists. "I beat him up," Rice said.

Both inmates were hauled off to segregation in another unit, elsewhere in the prison. Geoghan would never see Rice again.

Three weeks later, when Druce returned to the J1 unit, his fellow inmates said he appeared to be a changed man.

"He was withdrawn," Roy L. Hunt, a 45-year-old rapist from Brockton, said in an interview at the prison. "When he got like that you more or less stayed away from him because you don't want to incite him."

'Joe's in there killing him'

Druce returned on Friday, Aug. 22, but he no longer lived in Cell No. 3, next to Geoghan. He was relocated down and across the unit, to Cell No. 21.

Inmates said they detected a new steeliness in Druce. He appeared, one said, to be stalking Geoghan with his eyes.

Just hours after he returned, Hunt said, Druce visited his cell and brusquely asked to borrow his copy of the Wall Street Journal. Hunt said Druce liked to track the stock market.

The next morning, a bright and sunny Saturday, Hunt saw Druce again. He was seated at one of the tables on the "flats," the common area just outside the cells. Normally, Hunt said, he would have joined Druce for conversation. But Druce's body language made it clear that he wanted no visitors.

For breakfast that morning at 7:30, the prison served oatmeal with figs and bananas, and coffee. The prisoners, as is the rule in the protective unit, then returned to their cells to eat.

One inmate, who left the unit June 4, said the cell doors were opened in blocks of 10 or 11. Prisoners in each group would get their meals and return to their cells, where they would be locked in before the routine was repeated for the next group. But never, he said, were all the cells opened at the same time.

But on Saturday, Aug. 23, when lunchtime arrived, the guards on duty -- who inmates said worked the unit mostly on weekends -- opened all 24 cells at once, authorities said. It is a practice that authorities said was improper and must be reexamined.

Just after 11:30 a.m., two inmate workers, earning $2 a day, served the meal from a cart in the middle of the cellblock. Lunch that day was cheese pizza, tossed salad, and fruit punch.

"I was two guys behind Druce in line," Hunt said. "He got a pizza with soft cheese. He wanted a burnt piece, so the guy gave him another tray, and he goes back to his cell."

Assad said he stood near Geoghan in line. He said he was accustomed to Geoghan's generosity. "I asked for a root beer barrel one day, and he gave me a bag," Assad said.

That Saturday, Geoghan gave his card game partner half of his lunch. "John gave me one of his pieces of pizza," Assad said. "They give you two, and he ate one."

Then Assad and Geoghan walked away to eat in their cells.

Finished within a few minutes, the prisoners were let out of their cells again at 11:48 a.m. to return their trays to a portable carrier.

By then just one officer was on duty in J1. His partner had left to distribute medication off the unit, not an uncommon practice.

Assad, watching from near the guards' duty station, said he saw Druce pacing back and forth not far from Geoghan's door. "That didn't look right to me," he said. Druce was some 30 yards away from his cell on the other side of the unit.

Assad said he reminded Geoghan to notify the officer at the desk that he intended to play cards that afternoon.

"John came out, and I said, `You going to sign up for gym today, you ol' bastard?' And he said, `No cheating today,' " Assad recalled.

They were the last words Assad heard from Geoghan.

When the former priest returned to his cell, Druce followed him in, just before the doors were automatically closed, authorities said. He brought with him the simplest of murder weapons: a T-shirt to bind his victim's hands, and stretched-out socks -- tied around his waist -- to strangle Geoghan, investigators said.

The early moments of the attack went undetected by the sole correction officer then on duty, but not by two inmate workers who were on postlunch cleanup duty.

One of those workers, interviewed in prison, described the attack for the Globe on condition that he not be identified. The inmate, who has been questioned by authorities, said he fears retaliation by other inmates for helping alert the guards.

He gave this account:

The workers were cleaning up, emptying trash into a bin about 30 feet from Geoghan's cell, when the inmate's partner told him that he'd seen Druce in Geoghan's locked cell when he peered in through the cell's narrow window.

"At first we're in front of the trash and [he] looks over and sees Druce in his cell," the inmate said. "I said . . . `Why don't we mind our own business?' Then I said, jokingly, `Maybe he's in there having sex with the guy.' "

But after his partner moved in for a closer look, he said he saw Druce strangling Geoghan on the cell's floor.

When Druce discovered that he'd been spotted, he yelled, "Get away from the cell!"

"Joe's in there killing him," the inmate's partner told him. "And I looked at him and told him to stop [kidding] me."

The correction officer, still unaware of the assault, was going back and forth from the guard's duty station, or podium, to an office behind the desk.

"He wasn't distracted," the inmate said. "He was just doing what cops do."

The workers moved toward a janitor's closet. They worried aloud about violating the prison code that promised brutal retribution on those who inform on other inmates. But then, he said, they remembered that the prison's security monitors had almost certainly spied them looking into Geoghan's cell.

"Damn, the cameras saw you go over there," the inmate said to his co-worker. "I said, `Come on. Let's go tell the cop.'

"We told him, `Listen, Joe's in there killing the dude.' He looked at us. He thought we were kidding."

By then, Druce had been alone with Geoghan for about five minutes.

The inmates asked the officer to give them enough time to return to their cells, so their part in sounding the alert would not be detected by other inmates. "But before we got to our cells, [the officer] was already in front of Cell 2," the witness said.

The correction officer screamed for Druce to stop. He ordered him to open the door. But Druce, who had used a paperback book, along with Geoghan's nailclipper and toothbrush, to jam the door's sliding mechanism, did not comply.

At 11:57 a.m., according to official incident reports obtained by the Globe, the officer sounded an emergency alert.

"Geoghan was lying face down, unresponsive in the middle of the floor," one officer reported. "[Druce] was lying face down by the cell door, looking up at us. . . . I gave inmate Druce several orders to remove items that were used to jam the cell door. He removed a pair of nail clippers and threw them out under the door.

"The door was still jammed, and inmate Druce refused to remove other items, stating something like, `Don't hurt me . . . It's not against you.' "

Responding to the alarm, correction officers from other units rushed in. By this time, Druce had been alone with Geoghan for 10 minutes, more than enough time, authorities said, to bind Geoghan's hands behind his back and strangle him.

Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said Druce used Geoghan's shoe to tighten the tourniquet, and a pillow case to "strengthen the strangulation."

To ensure Geoghan did not survive, Druce also allegedly jumped on Geoghan's chest, according to accounts from correction officers and a member of the emergency response team.

"He did have a razor," Conte said shortly after the attack. "We have found the razor. His intent was to do further harm." Druce intended to castrate Geoghan, authorities have concluded.

At 11:59 a.m., officers on the unit called for the prison's "halligan tool," a large crowbar, to force the cell door from its track.

Six minutes later, the prison's hospital unit received a report of a medical emergency on the J1 unit. A response team rushed to the cell block.

Ambulance dispatched

An ambulance from Lancaster was dispatched to the prison at 12:03 p.m.

After several attempts, the door to Geoghan's cell was forced open at 12:07 p.m. Druce was placed in wrist restraints and taken to the prison's hospital unit.

Medical responders began nonstop cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Geoghan.

"I observed that the inmate's hands were bound behind his back and what appeared to be a pillow case and a shoe around his neck," one report says. "The inmate's face and head were purple. I removed the pillow case and sneaker from his neck and . . . what appeared to be a T-shirt from around both wrists."

A nurse tried to clear Geoghan's airway. He was placed in a cervical-spine collar, put on a back-board, and then removed from his blood-stained cell on a stretcher. He was not breathing and had no pulse.

As the emergency response continued, a correction officer obscured the windows of other inmates' cells with magnetic covers.

"We knew there was no air getting into him," one emergency responder said. "He was dead when we got there."

Geoghan's stretcher left the unit at 12:58 p.m. and within three minutes his ambulance was speeding west down Route 2.

"They threw electronic monitoring pads on him [at the hospital], and it was straightlined on the monitor," a member of the emergency response team said. "That's when the doctor asked the paramedic how long he had been down."

It had been about an hour.

"And then the doctor said: `Straight line. Pronounce him.' "

John J. Geoghan was pronounced dead at 1:17 p.m. by Dr. Richard Freniere at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, according to an incident report. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be ligature strangulation and blunt chest trauma, broken ribs, and a punctured lung.

As word of Geoghan's killing slowly spread, media crews began arriving in the prison's parking lot. Security was tight; prisoners said they knew something unusual had occurred.

When one inmate asked a correction officer what had happened, he said the guard replied in crude but clear prison code.

"He said, `Put it this way: The diddler's dead,' " the inmate later told Lauren Petit, a staff attorney with Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.

Among Geoghan's former cellblock companions, his fatal attack struck like a thunderbolt. "Most of the unit was very upset about it," Hunt said. "If we had known, we would have done something to stop it, because John didn't really deserve it. It's kind of sickening to have somebody of John's age being overpowered by someone like Druce."

Druce has told authorities that he planned his attack for more than a month. He spent his time in segregation after his fight with Rice in the gym puzzling out the details. Authorities have theorized that he perfected the method of jamming Geoghan's cell by trying it first on his own.

His lawyer, John H. LaChance of Framingham, said Druce was sexually abused as a boy by older men. He claims to have been beaten by his father. According to psychiatric testimony and documents from his 1989 murder trial, Druce was obsessed with sex and violent fantasies as a boy. In the days after the killing, Druce's father, Dana Smiledge of Byfield, said his son had a hatred for homosexuals. Smiledge has had no comment since.

Druce, 38, told legal advisers that Geoghan's open discussion of sexual attacks on children enraged him and provoked his attack.

In a September letter to the Catholic Free Press of Worcester, Druce said he had overheard conversations in prison in which sex offenders expressed "no remorse, only gloating and reminissing [sic] over past victims. This was motivation."

A state inquiry into Geoghan's murder is underway, with a report expected soon.

Edward A. Flynn, the state's public safety secretary, said the report will trace "the historical paths of how they ended up in the same unit at the same time in such a situation where Druce could have access to Geoghan."

Part of that probe is expected focus on whether officials at Souza-Baranowski ignored warnings that Assad said he and other inmates had sent them about Druce's volatility.

Assad said that Druce approached him in June with a scheme Druce hoped would earn him a transfer out of the unit. Massachusetts has an agreement with federal authorities that allows for prisoners deemed a threat to others to be moved into federal custody.

"He said he would come into my room, tie me up, and jam up my door," Assad said. "He said he'd do it on a weekend when there were no administrators here."

Assad said he only halfheartedly considered Druce's plan before rejecting it. "He told me that Geoghan was his second choice," Assad said in an interview.

He said when he alerted a member of the prison's security staff about Druce's scheme, he dismissed it saying: "He's probably joking."

Druce has told his lawyer that Assad's account is a jailhouse lie.

"Druce and Assad were not on good terms, and I would doubt very much if Druce would have said anything to Mr. Assad," LaChance said in an interview.

Correction officials also have privately questioned Assad's veracity.

But a former senior Department of Correction official who is familiar with the inquiry said there is evidence that Druce's attack should not have come as a surprise to prison officials. Had they searched Druce's cell, he said, they would have found notes and the book he had pre-cut to help jam the door.

One inmate, who asked not to be identified, has told a lawyer for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services that he was there when Assad issued his warning about Druce in June.

"There were rumors going around the unit that Joe was going to attack John," Assad said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Michael T. Maloney told a state legislative committee in October that Geoghan's was the first homicide in Massachusetts' prison system since 1996.

"We had one homicide in seven years," said Maloney, who recently departed on medical leave and will not return as commissioner, according to a department spokesman.

"That is one homicide too many. But this is corrections. We have the most violent population in the state of Massachusetts. . . . This is a human system. Sometimes people make mistakes."

Silent prayers

Just hours after John J. Geoghan was pronounced dead, the Archdiocese of Boston issued a simple statement.

"The Archdiocese of Boston offers prayers for the repose of John's soul and extends its prayers and consolation to his beloved sister, Cathy, at this time of personal loss," the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the church spokesman, said.

The next day at Sunday Mass, Geoghan's classmates from the St. John's Seminary Class of 1962 -- alerted to his death by email from their class secretary -- offered silent prayers of their own for a man they recalled as meek and self-effacing.

"He was just a guy who was very friendly, almost overly friendly, and in need of encouragement," said the Rev. Maurice V. Connolly, one of Geoghan's seminary classmates. "He was in some ways a loner. I think he was always looking for affirmation of some kind. He would bend over backwards to be friendly or do a favor to gain approval."

Maryetta Dussourd, who said Geoghan molested her three sons and her niece's four sons, received news of the death of the priest she had encountered at St. Andrew's Church in Jamaica Plain with something akin to shock.

"Oh, my God," she said. "How could that happen? He was supposed to be in a more secure place. What survivors wanted was justice. Not something like this."

At Geoghan's private funeral at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, the parish of his youth, nearly a dozen seminary classmates concelebrated his funeral Mass, said the Rev. Richard J. Butler, secretary of Geoghan's seminary graduating class and now a pastor in Stow.

During his homily, a presiding priest acknowledged Geoghan's painful life's journey and the suffering endured by his sister. Catherine Geoghan, dressed in a black suit, listened from a front pew near her brother's mahogany casket.

The Rev. Joseph H. Casey, Geoghan's spiritual adviser and a part-time philosophy instructor at Boston College, offered a remembrance of his friend. Casey said Geoghan had been falsely accused.

"Father Casey said that he was probably the only person in the church who believed totally in Father Geoghan's innocence," Butler said. "It was the wrong forum."

After the hourlong Mass, Geoghan's 10-car funeral procession drove to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy's parents, four Boston mayors, a cardinal, and several bishops.

Under a sunny sky and surrounded by some three dozen friends and relatives, John Geoghan was laid to rest.

"When he was alive, almost no one could find one ounce of humanity in him," said Geoffrey C. Packard, Geoghan's trial lawyer, who now serves as a district court judge in Malden. "He was perceived to be one-dimensional and purely evil.

"And it's sad, and ironic in a way, that it is his murder that has caused people to more closely examine the conditions of his confinement and his treatment and his frailty."

The Boston Globe



home last updates contact