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Investigations Opened in Case Of Killing of Ex-Priest in Prison

By Fox Butterfield

The New York Times -- BOSTON

State and local officials opened multiple investigations on Monday into the prison killing of John J. Geoghan, a former priest convicted of child molestation, saying the suspect, a self-proclaimed homophobe, had been planning the killing for more than a month.

As officials began examining everything from the staffing levels to the protective custody procedures at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center where Geoghan was murdered on Saturday, a lawyer familiar with the case said that another prisoner had tried to warn guards that the suspect, Joseph L. Druce, planned to kill Geoghan.

The lawyer, Jim Pingeon, director of litigation for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, a prisoners’ rights organization, did not give details of when the prisoner had approached the guards but said they took no action. Pingeon said the inmate had also said that Druce was standing directly outside Geoghan’s cell door just before it was to be closed after the lunch break on Saturday, a violation of prison regulations.

John J. Conte, the Worcester district attorney who will be prosecuting the case, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon that there was only one guard on duty at the time, and that inmates from all 22 individual cells had been allowed out just before the incident. A second guard who should have been on duty was away helping a nurse give medication to an inmate, Conte said.

Gov. Mitt Romney also convened a three-person task force to review prison policies. “We must find out why and what lessons may be learned,” said Edward A. Flynn, the Massachusetts secretary of public safety, who oversees the state Department of Correction.

He said the prison has 300 surveillance cameras and that tapes from them were being reviewed.

Prison experts said that prison officials appeared to have made a fundamental error in placing a vulnerable inmate like Geoghan, 68, in the same protective custody unit as Druce, 37. Druce is serving a life sentence for strangling a 51-year-old man in 1988 he believed was gay.