A jury on Wednesday rejected a prison inmate’s insanity defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder in the strangulation of pedophile priest John Geoghan, a central figure in Boston’s clergy sex abuse scandal.
Joseph Druce admitted sneaking into Geoghan’s prison cell in August 2003. He jammed the door shut with a book, then beat and strangled the 68-year-old defrocked priest.
The defense had argued that Druce was mentally ill and under the delusion that God had chosen him to kill Geoghan and send a message to pedophiles around the world. Prosecutors presented a different picture, describing Druce as a conniving killer who planned the murder for weeks so he could be a “big shot” in prison.
“He was not a mentally ill person, raging out of control,” Prosecutor Lawrence Murphy said. “He’s a calculating individual who waited for his opportunity.”
After the verdict was read, Druce looked at the jury and said: “It’s all right. Good job.”
“No hard feelings. Have a good night,” he added as the jury filed out of the courtroom.
Druce, 40, was already serving a life sentence for a 1989 conviction in the killing of a man who allegedly made a sexual pass at him after picking Druce up hitchhiking. The new conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
His attorney, John LaChance, later acknowledged the long odds of succeeding with the insanity defense.
"With the killing of a person, and when the defendant admits he did it, I think juries are very reluctant to acquit on any basis,” he said. “It appears obvious to me that there’s a mental illness there.”
When Druce appeared in court Wednesday, he had a black eye from an alleged prison attack the night before, and LaChance said he had asked the judge to investigate.
Druce told him that a man he didn’t recognize had entered his cell wearing Department of Correction uniform pants and a nondescript T-shirt, then hit him in the head and punched him in the eye, LaChance said. Druce had repeatedly claimed he was harassed by prison guards, both before and after he strangled Geoghan.
Corrections spokeswoman Diane Wiffin did not immediately comment on the claims.
During the trial, Druce had described a troubled childhood in which his father beat him and his mother, and he said he was physically and sexually abused at a residential school for troubled children.
He killed Geoghan, he said, to avenge the innocent children the former priest was accused of molesting. He said he overheard Geoghan advise other inmates on how to molest children and say he planned to move to South America after prison so he could resume working with children.
“I had seen myself as the designated individual who had to put a stop to the pedophilia in the church,” Druce said.
The jury deliberated for about six hours before reaching its verdict.
Geoghan had been in prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy, but he was accused in lawsuits of sexually abusing some 150 children.
His case helped spark the clergy sex abuse scandal that spread worldwide after church personnel records revealed that the Boston Archdiocese had transferred Geoghan from parish to parish, even after allegations of abuse surfaced.