No justice in death

John J. Geoghan was a Catholic priest who molested nearly 150 boys over the course of thirty years. He was exiled from the Catholic Church in 1998 in the face of numerous allegations, and was found guilty of indecent assault and battery in 2002 when a college student testified that he had been molested by Geoghan in a swimming pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in 1991. Because he was only found guilty of the one charge, Geoghan was sentenced to 9 to 10 years in prison. On February 23, 2004 Geoghan was murdered in his cell by Joseph L. Druce. “Justice” was served.

Joseph L. Druce was serving a life-without-parole sentence for a 1998 murder. He had been picked up as a hitchhiker by 51-year-old George Rollo. After realizing Rollo was gay, Druce attacked him, stuffed him in the trunk of Rollo’s car, drove him to a wooded area, and strangled him. Druce is a reputed member of the Aryan Nations neo-Nazi group.

Geoghan’s murder had been meticulously planned months in advance. At 11:48 a.m. on February 23, 2004, all 22 cells on the block were opened for prisoners to return food trays to a common area. There were supposed to be two correctional officers on guard by the tray return area, but one of them was pulled off to escort another inmate to the nurse’s station. Druce snuck into Geoghan’s cell and used a book, nail clipper, and toothbrush to jam the cell door so that it could not be opened electronically. He then gagged Geoghan, threw him to the ground, repeatedly stomped on him and jumped on him from the bed, then strangled him with a pair of socks. Guards weren’t able to get the door open for 7 to 8 minutes. Geoghan was pronounced dead at 1:17 p.m. with the cause of death as ligature strangulation, blunt chest trauma, bro-ken ribs, and a punctured lung.

While there’s no direct evidence to suggest that the prison facilitated the murder, many questions remain unanswered. Was it really coincidental that Geoghan was kept on the same block as Joseph Druce, a known homophobe who was serving a life-sentence for strangling a homosexual man? Was it really coincidental that only one correctional officer was on guard at the time? Was it really coincidental that the guards were unable to intervene for 7 to 8 minutes? I’m not suggesting a systemic conspiracy, but it’s no hidden fact that pedophiles and rapists are not treated well in prisons. Was Druce a lone vigilante or a soldier? And if the latter, who issued his orders?

Regardless of how it was done, the reaction to the murder was almost as atrocious as the act itself. One of Geoghan’s victims, Michael Linscott, said of the murder, “I thought about the victims that are still here that he would have to face had he lived…In my opinion, he got off the easy way.” Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for more than 200 alleged victims of Geoghan, added, “Many victims are disappointed … They wish Father John Geoghan had time to be in prison to reflect.”

While this sentiment is understandable, and could be sympathized with even, it is not just. Geoghan’s mur-der was not the righteous end to his story, but not because it was easier than life in prison. Geoghan molested children. But if you, me, or the state issues an execution, directly or indirectly, and feel no remorse, we’re no better than Druce. Some see Geoghan’s murder as justice—he was a pedophile, so he deserved it. Some see injustice that Druce wasn’t murdered—he was a murdering homophobe, so he deserved it. But both of those views are oversimplified. There are no heroes or villains, no winners or losers, only tragedy. Killing Geoghan did not take away what he did to the countless boys. Killing Druce would not bring back George Rollo or even John J. Geoghan.

We as a people should not cheer on murder—we should vehemently protest it. We as a people should not sit silent to the atrocities of our brothers in jail—we should scream in their defense. Everyone has certain unalienable human rights. We as a people need to recognize that.

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