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Son charged with murdering father in Duxbury pond was performing exorcism and baptism, prosecutors say

Jack Callahan, 19, was arraigned in Plymouth District Court on a single charge of murder stemming from the death of his father.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

PLYMOUTH — A 19-year-old Duxbury man murdered his father by repeatedly dunking his head under the water of a shallow pond, in what the son described as a baptism and exorcism, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Jack Callahan told police he had brought his father, Scott Callahan, to Island Creek Pond in Duxbury after retrieving him from a Boston bar, not long after he had walked away from a treatment center for chronic alcohol abuse, according to prosecutors.

Jack Callahan said he was exorcising a demon within his father named “Dirty Dan” and had given his father a choice while they were in the pond — to go to heaven with him or to hell.

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“I believe he chose hell,” Jack Callahan told police.

Plymouth Assistant District Attorney Shanan Buckingham said Callahan “believed he was baptizing his father.”

“He was holding his father in the pond on his back like a baby and he continually dunked his head under the water about four to eight times. When his father started to cough and choke, he would lift his head up. And when the father started fighting, he would strike him and push his head back down into the water,” she said.

“He did so until his father was floating and no longer struggling,” she said.

Scott Callahan, 57, was recovered early Monday morning. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy found water in his lungs and an abrasion on the top of his head, Buckingham said.

Jack Callahan pleaded not guilty to murder at his arraignment in Plymouth District Court. He was ordered held without bail.

Jack Callahan was wearing wet clothes when he returned to his mother’s Duxbury home around 2 a.m. Monday. She called police, saying her son appeared to be having a “mental breakdown,” Buckingham said.

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“The mother indicated that the defendant had not exhibited this behavior before and that he had no history of mental illness,” Buckingham said.

Callahan initially told police his father was missing and that he didn’t know what had happened, Buckingham said. Callahan said he had blacked out after his father punched him.

He eventually directed police to the park where an Uber driver had dropped them around 12:30 a.m. and provided a detailed account of how his father ended up floating in the pond.

With the help of a friend, Callahan tracked his father to a bar, where they found him inebriated. The father balked at riding in the friend’s truck, so the younger Callahan called an Uber. On the way to Duxbury, Jack Callahan called his mother, who told him not to bring her former husband to her home, Buckingham said.

Instead, Callahan and his father went to the pond at Crooker Memorial Park.

A small display of flowers on the beach at Island Creek Pond in Crooker Memorial Park in Duxbury, where Scott R. Callahan was recovered by first responders Monday morning.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In court, Callahan stood silently in a hospital gown, his hair disheveled, as the prosecution read the murder charge against him.

Callahan’s mother was in court, along with other relatives and the deacon of her church, said Kevin J. Reddington, Callahan’s lawyer. Reddington said a psychologist he hired had spoken with Callahan and concluded he was suffering from a mental health issue that made him a threat to himself.

He asked Judge Franco J. Gobourne to order a competency evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital. But Gobourne declined, saying Reddington could raise the issue of competency at a later date.

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“He’s a very nice young man. He comes from a wonderful family,” Reddington told the judge, adding that Callahan had no previous criminal record. Callahan had been living with a brother in Colorado working in the logging industry, but injured his back so severely he could no longer work as a logger and returned to Duxbury to live with his mother.

“My client had a concern for his father, knowing that he would be drinking and knowing that he shouldn’t be,” Reddington said. “He was going to try to take him back where he should be.”

Plymouth District Attorney Tim Cruz said after the arraignment that the defense’s request for a psychiatric evaluation suggests Callahan’s mental health will be an issue in the case.

Reddington said he requested the transfer to Bridgewater after Callahan was seen “banging his head on the floor.” He said the forensic psychologist who interviewed Callahan, Dr. Paul Zeizel, recommended the transfer.

”They might not be giving him any health services or any medication,” Zeizel, who specializes in posttraumatic stress disorder, said in an interview. “And for young people, or anyone who is accused of a serious crime, there is a high risk of self-harm. Bridgewater can handle that much better.”

Callahan’s mother and other supporters left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. He is due back in court on Aug. 12.



Kate Lusignan can be reached at kate.lusignan@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.