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Paedophile priest at heart of church scandal strangled in jail

Boston, Aug. 24 (Reuters): Prosecutors today investigated how a convicted murderer said to bear a grudge against homosexuals managed to strangle fellow inmate John Geoghan, a paedophile priest at the centre of a church sex abuse scandal, inside one of Massachusetts’ most secure prisons.

Geoghan was apparently killed by Joseph Druce, 37, Worcester county district attorney John Conte said yesterday, declining to say how he was choked to death. An autopsy is planned.

Geoghan, who was serving a sentence for child rape, was a central figure in the sex scandal that sent shockwaves through the Roman Catholic Church in the US and abroad.

Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 and his prosecution helped uncover a string of paedophile cases that forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign as Boston’s archbishop late last year. His death comes as the church is negotiating with victims to settle hundreds of sex abuse cases. In a sign that Boston’s new Archbishop, Sean ’Malley, is taking a tougher line with paedophile priests, his spokesperson said four more priests who are accused of molesting children had been put on indefinite administrative leave.

Some of Geoghan’s victims, clearly shaken, broke down in tears and others said he did not deserve to be murdered. Patrick McSorley, one of Geoghan’s best known victims, plans to speak at news conference later tonight.

Geoghan was held in a special protective unit where he had only limited contact with other prisoners. Officials refused to say how Druce, whose father said he held a grudge against homosexuals, managed to get near the 68-year-old ex-priest.

Conte’s office said Druce, currently serving a life sentence, will face murder charges in Geoghan’s death.

Geoghan, who had been accused of molesting more than 130 people while serving as a priest in various Boston area parishes, was attacked in Souza-Baranowski Correction Centre in Shirley, Massachusetts, one of the state’s most secure prisons. He later died in hospital, said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

Nantel declined to say if Druce and Geoghan knew each other or what motivated Druce to attack Geoghan. “We can’t release any details because the district attorney’s office is conducting an investigation,” she said. Druce is still being held at the prison and is now in isolation, she said.

The Boston Globe reported that Druce, who changed his name from Darrin Smiledge a few years ago, had a long-standing grudge against homosexuals and a hatred of blacks and Jews.

“I can’t understand why they would put a guy who would kill a sex offender in a cell with a sex offender,” Druce’s father, Dana Smiledge, told the newspaper. Prisons spokeswoman Kelly Nantel declined to say whether Druce and Geoghan were in the same cell.

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