Bishop could have been tried, DA says

Cites actions that followed brother’s death

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / February 17, 2010

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Amy Bishop could have been charged with three serious crimes after she shot her younger brother to death in 1986, instead of being allowed to walk away without a mark on her criminal record, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said yesterday as he released Braintree police records missing for more than 20 years.

Keating said that he reviewed police reports and other documents in a case file recovered Monday from a retired Braintree police captain and concluded that prosecutors had probable cause to charge Bishop with assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon, and unlawful possession of ammunition, all in her attempt after the shooting to obtain a getaway car at gunpoint from a local auto body shop.

The reports do not contradict determinations by police and prosecutors at the time that the shooting was accidental, a finding based on the accounts of the sole eyewitness, Amy and Seth Bishop’s mother, provided to State Police 11 days after the events, Keating said.

And they do not open the door for any prosecutions now, he said, because the statute of limitations has expired on the gun charges and any manslaughter charges that prosecutors could try to bring.

“Even if a grand jury were to hear allegations that this incident involved wanton and reckless conduct on the part of Amy Bishop, the lowest standard for manslaughter in Massachusetts, the statute of limitations has barred indictment on that charge since 1992,’’ Keating said.

The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Seth Bishop in December 1986 has been the subject of new scrutiny since Saturday, one day after police say Amy Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, opened fire on a room full of her colleagues, killing three and critically injuring two. She faces the capital charge of murder and three charges of attempted murder.

That charges were never brought raises questions again about what happened to Braintree police reports that say Bishop went to an autobody shop after the shooting, brandishing the shotgun and demanding a car to escape in. Former Braintree Police Chief John Polio and former first assistant Norfolk district attorney John Kivlan said they never saw those reports.

“As I previously stated, the Braintree police report that was released today and [had] previously been reported as missing by the department, had never been brought to my attention,’’ Kivlan said yesterday. “Why the Braintree Police Department did not seek complaints in the Quincy District Court on the above charges is unknown to me.’’

Attempts to reach US Representative William D. Delahunt, who was Norfolk district attorney at the time, were unsuccessful yesterday.

Meanwhile, a separate incident in Bishop’s past came to light yesterday. Peabody police and court records show that Bishop was implicated in an altercation at a pancake house in 2002 that led prosecutors to ask that she be forced to take anger management classes.

In March 2002, Bishop walked into an International House of Pancakes restaurant in Peabody with her family, asked for a booster seat for one of her children, and learned the last seat had gone to another customer, according to a police report.

Bishop strode to the customer, identified in the report as Michelle Gjika, demanded the seat and, after a profanity-laced rant, punched her in the head while yelling “I am Dr. Amy Bishop.’’

Bishop did not plead guilty, according to court documents, but admitted there was enough evidence to prosecute her. In exchange, she received probation. Court records are unclear on whether a judge granted the prosecutor’s recommendation she take anger management classes.

According to records released yesterday, Braintree police arrived shortly after the shooting to find Bishop’s mother Judith with her 18-year-old son Seth lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.

Judith Bishop told police that the shooting happened after her daughter came downstairs holding her father’s 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and asked how to unload it. The gun went off accidentally, Judith Bishop told police.

On Saturday, Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier, in a highly unusual press conference, questioned how the department handled the investigation at the time and seemed to suggest that Judith Bishop’s role in town government may have influenced John Polio, police chief at the time, to release her daughter on the same day as the shooting.

Police waited 11 days to interview the family, including Bishop’s father, Samuel Bishop, and when they did, the mother and daughter gave conflicting accounts of what happened.

Frazier said Judith Bishop was a member of the town’s Personnel Board. But Joe Powers, Braintree town clerk, said he reviewed town records from 1970 through 1993 and could find no evidence that Bishop had served on the town’s Personnel Board.

She served as an elected member of Town Meeting from Precinct 3 from 1980 until 1993, Powers said. She also served briefly on the town’s Arts Lottery Council, in 1985.

Over the weekend, Keating’s office released a six-page 1987 State Police report that called the shooting an accident. Until yesterday, it was the only document available on the case, and the lack of information sparked criticism from legal specialists who said it indicated a superficial investigation. The report did not describe what kind of shotgun was used or the ammunition, nor did it disclose that Bishop fled the house with the gun, which she then pointed at a mechanic at a dealership. The police reports released yesterday include that information.

Frazier, who did not return calls, included a brief statement in Keating’s release.

“Although the reports and my statements contain minor discrepancies, I am relieved that we now have the incident reports from the responding officers available to us,’’ Frazier stated.

Polio, who described feeling disappointed and blind-sided by Frazier’s press conference, had defended the department’s handling of the case and the decision not to charge Bishop.

But in yesterday’s Globe, Polio said that after reading the State Police report compiled in 1986 and released to the public last weekend, he had questions about the quality of the investigation.

Several legal specialists said yesterday that the 1987 report failed to address many key questions, including the discrepancies between Amy Bishop and her mother’s statements to police. They also questioned Judith Bishop’s statement that she did not hear anything when her daughter fired a shot in her bedroom, before firing the second shot that killed her brother.

“Even based on the facts that were there, [prosecutors] should have at a minimum conducted either an inquest or a grand jury proceeding, both of which would have allowed any of the witnesses to be summonsed either before the grand jury or a judge to evaluate their testimony under oath,’’ said Timothy M. Burke, a former Suffolk prosecutor and criminal defense attorney in Needham.

Kivlan, Delahunt’s first assistant who reviewed the police reports into the shooting of Seth Bishop and accepted the police finding of an accident, has acknowledged there were inconsistencies in the witness statements, but he said they did not challenge the overall police finding that it was an accidental discharge. Kivlan, however, said he did not know at the time that Bishop had fled and pointed a shotgun at someone else, which would have changed his assessment of the case.

He said he did not know if Brian Howe, the State Police trooper who wrote the report, knew of Bishop’s actions once she fled. Howe, who retired as a sergeant in December, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Travis Andersen and Michael Rezendes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.