Defense lawyer: Prof. accused in Ala. campus slayings likely insane, can’t recall shootings

By Jay Reeves, AP
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lawyer: Prof. accused in slayings likely insane

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — An Alabama college professor accused of killing three colleagues during a faculty meeting is likely insane, and she can’t remember the shootings, her attorney said.

Roy W. Miller, the court-appointed attorney for Amy Bishop, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that his client has severe mental problems that appear to be paranoid schizophrenia. Miller discussed the case hours after hundreds of mourners attended the first funeral and memorial services for Bishop’s slain co-workers.

Authorities said three more people were hurt when Bishop pulled out a handgun and started shooting during the routine meeting with colleagues last Friday. Charged with capital murder and attempted murder, she is being held without bond.

Miller said Bishop’s failure to obtain tenure at the University of Alabama in Huntsville was likely a key to the shootings. Bishop, who has a doctorate from Harvard University and has taught at the University of Alabama in Huntsville since 2003, apparently was incensed that a lesser-known school rejected her for what amounted to a lifetime job.

“Obviously she was very distraught and concerned over that tenure,” Miller said. “It insulted her and slapped her in the face, and it’s probably tied in with the Harvard mentality. She brooded and brooded and brooded over it, and then, ‘bingo.’”

Bishop’s husband, James Anderson, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” he also thought the failed tenure battle was involved.

“Only someone who has been intricately involved with that fight understands what a tough, long, hard battle (it is) … That I would say is part of the problem, is a factor,” he said in an interview aired Friday.

Anderson said his wife had never taken any anger management courses, even though prosecutors asked for that when Bishop was charged with starting a fight over a booster seat at a restaurant in 2002. Anderson told ABC he didn’t think she needed the course. Bishop admitted to the assault in court, and the charges were dismissed six months later.

Miller said Bishop seems “very cogent” in jail, where he has spent more than three hours with her over two days, yet she also seems to realize she has a loose grip on reality.

“She gets at issue with people that she doesn’t need to and obsesses on it,” Miller said. “She won’t shake it off, and it’s really (things of) no great consequence.”

Bishop, who claims an IQ of 180, can’t explain the shootings, he said.

“She says she does not remember anything about it,” said Miller.

The chief prosecutor in Huntsville said he would not oppose a mental evaluation for Bishop, 45.

“In this case as in all cases, if they want to start talking about a mental defense, then have at it. We’ll be ready when it comes to court,” said Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard.

Miller said he expects prosecutors to seek the death penalty, but Broussard said his office hasn’t decided whether to seek Bishop’s execution or a sentence of life without parole if she is convicted.

“We’ll wait until we have every piece of evidence in front of us to decide on that,” said Broussard. He said investigators had yet to review evidence about Bishop’s troubled past, including her fatal shooting of her younger brother in 1986 in a case authorities in Massachusetts ruled accidental.

In Bishop’s only public comments since the slayings, the teacher said the shootings “didn’t happen. There’s no way.”

“What about the people who died?” a reporter asked as she was led to a police car hours after the killings.

“There’s no way. They’re still alive,” she responded.

The shooting decimated the biology department — of 14 members, six were killed or wounded, one is jailed, and the rest are dealing with the shock and loss of colleagues. Two of those shot were hospitalized in critical condition Thursday, while another who was shot in the chest has been released.

Mourners hugged and cried Thursday at a memorial service for biology department chairman Gopi K. Podila. A long line of mourners moved slowly from the funeral home lobby, down a hallway and before an open casket in the sanctuary.

He was remembered as a father figure who cared deeply about his students, the kind of professor who kept his office door open in case they needed to talk about personal problems. Former student Joy Agee recalled that he helped her overcome her anxiety about a speech to a community group by showing up in the audience.

“He told me if I got nervous during the speech to just look at him and just talk to him,” she said.

Podila had supported Bishop’s tenure application.

After the service for Podila, more than 100 people attended a service held by the Council on African-American Faculty for slain biology professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis.

Johnson had organized the council at UAH in 2004, while Davis helped promote it in recent years. The two were among seven black faculty members at the school at the time, a number that had grown to 14 prior to their deaths. Overall, the school has 340 full-time faculty members.

“We have not only lost two founding members of our group but we have also lost two of our biggest advocates,” said Sonja Brown-Givens, the council’s current president.

Associated Press writer Desiree Hunter in Huntsville contributed to this report.

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