Judge rejects effort to release inquest records to public

Globe’s lawyer to appeal decision

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / June 19, 2010

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A Norfolk Superior Court judge yesterday rejected a request from The Boston Globe to unseal records from the judicial inquest into the 1986 fatal shooting of Seth Bishop by his sister, Amy.

Judge Elizabeth Bowen Donovan wrote in her decision that public access to a transcript and judicial report from the inquest could cause “embarrassment’’ to those involved and prejudice potential jurors against Amy Bishop, who on Wednesday was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in her brother’s death.

“The court balanced the rights of all concerned, including the public,’’ Donovan wrote in a seven-page decision.

The Globe filed its request Wednesday morning, citing a state law, enacted in 1992, that provides for the release of judicial inquest records once a grand jury files an indictment.

A court-appointed lawyer for Amy Bishop argued against the Globe’s request at a hearing Thursday morning. That lawyer, Larry Tipton of Dedham, said he believed the documents’ release would infringe on Bishop’s right to a fair trial and would hurt the privacy interests of witnesses who testified at the inquest.

“I think the judge was right on the law and the facts and did the right thing,’’ Tipton said yesterday.

A Globe lawyer said the newspaper intends to appeal the decision.

“We believe the statute and decisions by other courts make clear that these sorts of materials are public,’’ said David McCraw, vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Co., which owns the Globe.

Seth Bishop’s death came under new scrutiny in February, when Amy Bishop, a 45-year-old biology professor and mother of four, allegedly went on a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama Huntsville, killing three colleagues and injuring three others. She is being held in an Alabama jail awaiting trial on charges of capital and attempted murder.

Bishop’s arrest drew attention to law enforcement’s handling of the Dec. 6, 1986, death of Seth Bishop in the family’s Braintree home. Amy Bishop had shot her 18-year-old brother with their father’s shotgun. She then fled the house and tried to commandeer a getaway car at gunpoint from an auto dealership. After she was apprehended by police, she said the shooting was an accident, and she was never charged.

The current Norfolk district attorney, William R. Keating, ordered a judicial inquest after widespread publicity raised questions about his predecessor’s handling of the 1986 investigation. In April, Quincy District Court Judge Mark R. Coven conducted the inquiry, hearing from 19 witnesses over three days. He filed his report and a transcript of the proceedings last month in Norfolk Superior Court.

Keating then presented evidence to a grand jury, and on Wednesday announced that the panel had indicted Bishop in the 1986 killing. Keating said that at the time of Seth Bishop’s death, “Jobs weren’t done, responsibilities weren’t met, justice wasn’t served.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @donovanslack.

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