"It certainly was intentional on the part of the defendant," said John J. Conte, the district attorney in Worcester, west of Boston.
As law enforcement officials announced two investigations into the incident - and as the district attorney offered details of the killing - Geoghan's death Saturday in a maximum protective custody unit at a prison outside Boston sparked criticism from prisoners' rights advocates, the state's correctional officers' union and others.
Questions arose about why only one guard was present when Geoghan was fatally attacked in the 22-cell unit, and why the prison's 300 surveillance cameras failed to capture a killing that officials said took seven to eight minutes to carry out. Many wondered why Druce - convicted in 1988 of killing a 51-year-old man he believed to be homosexual - was allowed contact with one of the state's most notorious child molesters.
"This is a terrible black eye on the Department of Corrections for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Joshua Rubenstein, regional director for Amnesty International. "John Geoghan was among the most high-profile prisoners in the state. At the same time, he was a frail, older man. He was 68 years old. And the state could not protect him adequately."
The former priest was accused of molesting nearly 150 children in the Boston archdiocese over more than 30 years. In January 2002, he received a nine-year sentence for fondling a boy at a community pool.
Documents published in The Boston Globe and elsewhere during Geoghan's trial revealed that officials were aware for decades of sexual abuse complaints against him. Rather than remove him from duties involving work with children, church leaders routinely reassigned Geoghan to new parishes.
At least two other criminal charges were pending against Geoghan, who was moved recently to the Shirley facility after expressing fears for his life at the state's maximum-security prison in Concord.
An official of the prison guards union said yesterday that his organization told state corrections officials that the protective custody unit where Geoghan and Druce were held was understaffed.
"We asked them to guarantee that at least two correction officers would be in the protective custody unit at all times. They refused," said Robert Brouilette, business agent for the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union. "We hoped to prevent the kind of senseless violence and death that occurred."
Conte said two guards ordinarily were assigned to the unit where Geoghan and Druce were held. But when the assault took place around noon Saturday, one guard was elsewhere, helping a nurse administer medications, Conte said.
He said the cell block was not fully secured, and the other guard apparently was distracted while Druce entered Geoghan's cell. Conte said Druce jammed the cell door shut with a nail clipper, a toothbrush and a book to prevent guards from entering.
Conte said Druce used a T-shirt to tie Geoghan's hands behind his back. He strangled Geoghan with socks, "which he had been stretching for a long time," Conte said.
An autopsy yesterday found that Geoghan died of "ligature strangulation" and "blunt chest trauma" that caused broken ribs and punctured lungs.
Conte described Druce as "extremely cooperative" in the investigation into Geoghan's death. Druce "said he was the only one involved," Conte said. "But we are not taking that at face value."
Conte said Druce, who had recently been released from the prison's isolation unit, apparently had made a careful study of the habits of guards and prisoners in the protective custody area.
Ed Flynn, the state secretary of public safety, said inmates admitted to protective custody undergo screening "to determine who their enemies are" before they are placed in a particular prison.
Flynn said "people in protective custody have very specific rights." But "it is not like selecting a roommate."
Flynn appointed a panel of law enforcement authorities to investigate Geoghan's killing. A grand jury also will look into the killing, Conte said.
Conte said Druce, who is serving a life sentence, has not yet been charged.
Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, but sanctions can be added to a life sentence.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.