Inquest begins in 1986 Massachusetts shooting death of accused Alabama professor’s brother

By Denise Lavoie, AP
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Inquest begins in Mass. shooting by Ala. professor

QUINCY, Mass. — One of the first police officers on the scene after Amy Bishop fatally shot her teenage brother in 1986 still believes “in my own heart” that it was an accident, he said Tuesday, even knowing now that she is charged with killing three colleagues at an Alabama university.

The police investigation after the 1986 shooting was proper and complete, Tim Murphy, a retired Braintree, Mass., police officer, said after testifying at an inquest into Seth Bishop’s death that has the potential to produce a murder indictment.

“Everything that was supposed to be done was done,” he said. “It was a very thorough investigation.”

Murphy responded to the family home after the shooting and then helped arrest Amy Bishop at a nearby auto body shop. He said she pointed her gun at several officers who approached her and didn’t drop the weapon until the third command.

“In my own heart, I believe it was an accident,” Murphy said. “I just don’t think that anybody would have done anything like that. I think it was a horrible tragedy.”

Ten witnesses were heard Tuesday at the closed-door proceedings, which are expected to wrap up Thursday.

Another retired Braintree officer, Kenneth Brady, said he doesn’t know if the shooting was an accident but said the investigation should have been more thorough.

“I thought the uniformed people did what we were supposed to do and the administration let us down,” Brady said after testifying. “I think it could have been handled differently. It wasn’t handled well.”

Brady, a sergeant then, responded to the Bishop home and escorted Bishop’s mother to the hospital where her son was taken and then took her to a police station. He said she was upset and asked to see the police chief.

Brady said Judith Bishop was told Chief John Polio wasn’t in on a Saturday. Brady said a deputy chief later called and instructed the officers not to book Amy Bishop and to release her to her parents.

Norfolk District Attorney William Keating called for the inquest after Amy Bishop was charged with fatally shooting three colleagues at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in February. That shooting brought new law enforcement scrutiny into her brother’s shooting in Braintree 24 years earlier.

Seth Bishop’s death was ruled accidental at the time, but the report from the judge presiding over the inquest could be used anew by prosecutors.

The parents, Judith and Samuel Bishop, testified for about an hour early Tuesday, Brady said; they weren’t seen coming or going through the main entrance of Quincy District Court.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Nelson, chief of Keating’s homicide unit, said nine more witnesses are expected to testify.

“Basically, we’re just trying to find out what happened, as best we can,” Nelson said after the last witness testified Tuesday.

Judge Mark Coven is conducting the inquest. He is expected to issue within about 30 days a report and recommendations, which prosecutors could use to ask a grand jury to indict Bishop for murder or to say there is not enough evidence to prosecute her.

Security at the closed-door hearing was tight. A court officer stood outside the door, locking it every time someone went in or out.

Tom Pettigrew, a former worker at the car dealer auto body shop who is expected to testify at the inquest Wednesday, told reporters Tuesday that Amy Bishop pointed a shotgun at his chest and demanded his keys shortly after she shot her brother. He said that he refused to hand over the keys hanging from his belt and that Bishop then went to the parking lot and started checking car doors just before police arrived.

Pettigrew, who was 22 at the time, said Bishop, then 21 and single, told him she had just had a fight with her husband.

Prosecutors who handled the 1986 investigation have said they weren’t told about the confrontation at the auto body shop.

Investigators looking at an old crime scene photo recently discovered a newspaper article about the 1986 killings of actor Patrick Duffy’s parents. The clipping, which was near shotgun shells in Amy Bishop’s bedroom, described how a teenager shot the “Dallas” star’s parents with a 12-gauge shotgun and stole a getaway car from an auto dealership.

Keating has said that Bishop’s actions at the auto dealership should have led to weapons charges against her.

Those charges, as well as a manslaughter charge, cannot be brought now because of a statute of limitations. The only potential charge Bishop could face is murder, which has no statute of limitations in Massachusetts.

Judith Bishop was the only other witness to the shooting. She told police in 1986 that her daughter had been trying to learn how to use the shotgun when she accidentally fired it into her bedroom wall. She said her daughter came downstairs for help unloading the gun and again accidentally fired it, right in front of her, as Seth Bishop was walking through the kitchen. A bullet struck him in the chest.

Their lawyer, Bryan Stevens, said in February that Judith Bishop told the truth about the shooting and would tell the same story during the inquest.

“It was an accident, no question about it,” Stevens told The Associated Press.

Amy Bishop has the right to attend but will not be there because she is being held without bail in Alabama in the Feb. 12 shootings, which she has said “didn’t happen.”

“For all intents and purposes, it’s impossible for her to go,” said her Alabama defense attorney, Roy Miller.

Huntsville police spokesman Sgt. Mark Roberts said the department does not have anyone at the inquest.

Associated Press reporters Kendal Weaver in Montgomery, Ala., and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this story.

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