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Inmate claims he warned officials of danger to priest

Associated Press

BOSTON — The convicted murderer who allegedly strangled defrocked priest John J. Geoghan in his cell was looking to commit a hate crime so he could go to federal prison, an inmate told prisoner advocates.

Robert Assad is an inmate at the Souza-Baranowski correctional facility where Geoghan, 68, was serving his sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy.

Assad had twice told prison officials that Geoghan — accused of molesting nearly 150 boys over three decades — was in danger, prison rights advocates said.

Joseph L. Druce, 37, was serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of a gay man. He is accused of strangling Geoghan in his cell Saturday after a month of planning.

Druce initially tried to enlist Assad in a phony hostage-taking scheme, hoping to be convicted of a hate crime on Assad, who is an Arab-American, Assad told legal services agency lawyer Peter Costanza.

Druce told Assad that if he wouldn’t participate, “the only other guy I could do this to is Geoghan,” said James R. Pingeon, litigation director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.

Druce thought that Geoghan could also be a hate crime target, because Druce apparently believed that Geoghan was gay, Pingeon said.

It was not made clear why Druce would want to be sent from Souza-Baranowski, the state’s maximum-security facility, to a federal prison.

Costanza, who interviewed Assad for 2 1/2 hours, said he felt Assad had “pretty good” credibility. “I have no reason to think that what he told me is outlandish or incorrect,” he said.

Geoghan was transferred to Souza-Baranowski in Shirley because of his disciplinary record at the state prison at Concord, including allegations of lying, insolence toward staff and disobeying orders, said corrections spokeswoman Kelly Nantel.

The transfer was approved by Michael Grant, the superintendent of the state prison at Concord, who overrode the recommendation of a three-person prison board, the Boston Herald reported in its Wednesday editions.

Pingeon said after Assad refused Druce’s offer to partake in the hostage scheme, he later told prison officials about what Druce had said, including the implied threat to Geoghan. His concerns were ignored, Pingeon said.

Pingeon said there seemed to be a “culture of indifference to the safety of prisoners” in the protective custody unit where Druce allegedly killed Geoghan.

“Our view is that this information suggests at least a significant possibility that this murder could have been prevented,” said Pingeon.

Assad also claimed that he had spoken to Geoghan just a few days before he was killed. In that conversation, Assad said, Geoghan said he was aware that Druce posed a threat to him, that he was afraid, and that he had reported his fears to prison officials.

Pingeon also said that his agency had interviewed two other prisoners on the unit Tuesday who claimed there had been a pattern on the part of the guards of “verbally harassing Geoghan or … encouraging other prisoners to harass Geoghan, including specifically encouraging Druce to harass.”

A special panel investigating the slaying, headed by state police Maj. Mark Delaney, was announced Monday by state Public Safety secretary Ed Flynn. Worcester County District Attorney John J. Conte is also investigating and plans to take the case to a grand jury in September. Conte has said Druce will be charged with murder.

Geoghan, 68, was a pedophile priest who became a symbol of the clergy sex abuse scandal that shook the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church.