September 27, 2003

The state Appeals Court has erased the single conviction of John J. Geoghan for fondling a boy in a public swimming pool, and while the procedure is routine for criminal defendants who die during their appeals, alleged victims of one of the clergy sexual abuse scandal’s central figures reacted angrily.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for many of Geoghan’s accusers, said he is researching the case law that allows some convictions of deceased defendants, like Geoghan, to be dismissed. Garabedian said he will ask the Legislature to change the law ”so this never happens again.”

Geoghan was killed Aug. 23 in his cell at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Another inmate, Joseph L. Druce, has pleaded not guilty to murdering the defrocked priest.

For alleged victims of Geoghan, his 2002 conviction was a symbol that the legal system was finally holding him accountable for his actions. Yesterday, some said the decision to invalidate that conviction was an insult.

”It’s not acknowledging the pain that the victims have incurred,” said William Clarke of Concord. ”It’s just ignoring it and saying it doesn’t matter.”

Geoghan’s death, he said, didn’t seem reason enough to redeem the defrocked priest’s record in the eyes of the law. ”It seems to create a way for people to get away with it,” said Clarke, who said he was abused in the 1960s.

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