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Inquest ordered in Bishop’s brother’s slaying

A Massachusetts prosecutor is ordering an inquest into Amy Bishop's 1986 fatal shooting of her 18-year-old brother. The death was ruled accidental at the time.
Amy Bishop
Professor Amy Bishop is charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of three faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Massachusetts prosecutor has ordered an inquest into Amy Bishop's 1986 fatal shooting of her brother, saying there are new questions about whether it was the accident investigators concluded at the time.

The handling of the case has been under renewed scrutiny since Bishop was accused of killing three faculty colleagues in a shooting Feb. 12 at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

In announcing the inquest Thursday, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating revealed that investigators recently examined a photo taken of Bishop's bedroom after her brother's death and enlarged it. They found a newspaper article that described someone killing a relative with a shotgun and stealing a getaway car from a car dealership.

Bishop shot and killed her brother, Seth, with a shotgun at their Braintree home. She then went to a car dealership body shop and tried to commandeer a car, police said. After her arrest, she told police that the weapon had accidentally discharged.

"We were struck by how parallel the circumstances were," he said. "That could go to the state of mind of Amy Bishop at the time."

Keating said the inquest would allow a judge to subpoena Bishop's parents. He said they refused to talk with two state troopers who went to their home last week, saying they had retained counsel. Bishop's mother, Judith, was the only other witness to the slaying.

"Had they cooperated and we thought their answers were forthright and truthful, this might not have been necessary," Keating said.

Bryan Stevens, an attorney for the Bishops, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Serious errors
Judge Mark Coven, presiding judge in Quincy District Court, will conduct the closed-door inquest and report his findings to Keating, who would then decide whether to issue an indictment. The only possible charge that could be filed is murder because the statute of limitations on all other counts, including manslaughter, has expired.

"Finding out who is responsible may not mean that you can prosecute that person," Keating said. The fact that the only other eyewitness says it was an accident is "a huge burden to overcome," he said.

Police reports Keating released last week said Amy Bishop told the officers she had first accidentally fired the shotgun, which her father bought as protection against burglars, in her bedroom as she tried to unload it. She said she then went downstairs to ask her brother to help.

She said the gun went off again as Seth walked across the kitchen. She told police she did not realize she had hit him. She said she ran away and thought she dropped the gun. She claimed she did not remember anything else until she was taken to a police station.

Keating said there were serious errors in the 1986 investigation. He said it was a mistake for authorities to release Amy Bishop on the day of the shooting even after booking had begun and to not question her and her mother again for 11 days.

A state police investigation conducted for the district attorney at the time also did not contain a Braintree police report that said when Amy Bishop fled her home after the shooting, she threatened workers at the car dealership body shop while trying to get a car and was still armed when she was arrested at gunpoint by police.

"The more information we got, the more we looked at reports, the more questions we had," Keating said. Keating and state police said last week they also are reviewing how the original investigations were conducted.

Mail bombing
Later incidents involving the Harvard-educated neurobiologist also have raised questions. She and her husband James Anderson were questioned but never charged in the 1993 attempted mail bombing of a medical researcher who gave her a bad job review. The U.S. attorney in Boston is reviewing that case.

Bishop also was charged with assault and disorderly conduct after a fight over a child booster seat in a restaurant in 2002. The charges were dismissed after six months' probation.

Bishop 45, is charged with capital murder and attempted murder in the Alabama shooting, which wounded three other faculty members. Colleagues say she had complained for months about being denied the job protections of tenure.

A police spokesman in Huntsville, Ala., said it was unclear whether information gathered in a Massachusetts inquest could be used in the capital murder case against Bishop in Alabama.

"It's too bad they didn't do a a good investigation up there the first time," said Sgt. Mark Roberts of the Huntsville Police Department. "If they had in 1986, we might not be where we are today in 2010."

Keating said it's important to find out what happened for the Alabama shooting victims.

"They deserve everything under the law we can do to get answers to the questions."

Also Thursday, University of Alabama-Huntsville spokesman Ray Garner confirmed to The Huntsville Times that Amy Bishop has been suspended retroactively to the day of the attack and will be fired.