Parents defended Amy Bishop on ’86 shooting

Testimony revealed in inquest into case

Eric Schultz/The Huntsville Times
Amy Bishop is accused in the February 2010 slaying of three people in Alabama. That case spurred officials here to look again into the 1986 shooting of her brother, Seth.

Court documents released yesterday provide a first-hand account of how the parents of Amy Bishop defended their daughter during testimony in a closed-door inquest two years ago, insisting it was an accident when the murder suspect fatally shot her brother in the family’s Braintree home in 1986.

Bishop, then 21, had been traumatized the year before by a burglary in the house, her father testified, and he maintained that her fear contributed to events that day.

Samuel Bishop testified in April 2010 that his daughter “was sitting in that Victorian house, that big house by herself for close to 2 1/2 hours and she was afraid,’’ according to a redacted transcript of the 2010 inquest obtained by the Globe last night, after the newspaper successfully sued for its release.

“And she made a terrible mistake in acting on that fear,’’ he said. “But it’s my view once she found that she was in a dilemma that her total intent was to disarm that weapon . . . The fact that she was in that house for that long and the robbery I think was never taken into account.’’

Judith Bishop, her mother, testified that Amy Bishop and her brother, Seth, then 18, were putting away groceries in the kitchen when Amy entered with a rifle and asked for help unloading it. She said that as Seth reached for the weapon, it discharged although Amy did not have her hand on the trigger.

“The blood was just - it just came in a wave,’’ Judith Bishop said. “My shoes were full of blood; my hair was full of blood.’’

Though the Bishops have previously issued statements through their lawyer proclaiming their daughter’s innocence in the 1986 shooting, which had been ruled an accident at the time, they had never spoken publicly. The inquest led to the indictment in June 2010 of Amy Bishop for the killing of her brother.

It is a case that may never come to trial.

Bishop was arrested in February 2010 after allegedly fatally shooting three colleagues during a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she was a professor of biology. Prosecutors have said that they intend to seek the death penalty in that case.

As law enforcement and reporters dug into her background, the shooting death of her brother and the handling of the initial investigation came under scrutiny. The revelations prompted then-Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, now a congressman, to seek the inquest.

During the inquest, Samuel Bishop also testified that he and his children had a disagreement the morning of the shooting over chores, though he could not remember the specifics.

“I wasn’t - I wasn’t worried about anything,’’ he said. “I didn’t leave there thinking we had some terrible disagreement.’’ He testified that Seth used the shotgun as a member of the Braintree Rifle Club and that Amy Bishop never showed any interest in it.

“Not only that, she didn’t know the first thing about the weapon,’’ he said. “And she didn’t know the first thing about almost anything mechanical. I mean even to this day she needs help getting her mail off the telephone or working something. She’s brilliant in a number of areas, but that isn’t one of them.’’

Bishop fled her home with the rifle after the shooting, tried to commandeer a vehicle from an autobody shop, and aimed the gun at police officers before being taken into custody.

Judith Bishop testified at the 2010 inquest that someone - who she believed was Officer William Finn - called her several months after the shooting and asked whether the family would like the rifle back.

When she said no, Judith Bishop said, the caller asked if he could have the rifle, and she said yes. Finn adamantly denied the assertion in his own testimony.

“I never wanted to see that gun again,’’ Judith Bishop said.

Finn said he never knew what became of the rifle, court records show. “I would never have asked,’’ Finn said. “I’m an anti-gun person.’’

Transcripts from the 2010 inquest also show current and retired members of the Braintree police, State Police and Norfolk district attorney’s office testified in 2010 that the initial investigation into the 1986 shooting was deficient in several ways, echoing earlier comments made in interviews with the Globe.

Brian L. Howe, a retired State Police investigator who investigated the shooting, testified that he never received any reports or crime scene photographs from local police, despite repeated requests.

He said the Braintree detective on the case, Theodore Buker, who has since died, arranged for police to interview the Bishops at home rather than the police station after Amy was released.

“That normally would not be the procedure we would follow,’’ Howe said. “I assume that it was an accommodation that was extended to the family because of the circumstances.’’

John Kivlan, the top assistant prosecutor at the time of the shooting, testified that he did not recall having conversations with Howe about the case, and said “it shouldn’t work that way.’’

Kivlan said Howe never said that Braintree police were not cooperating. He said that when police released the family, the crime scene was compromised.

Judith Bishop, a Town Meeting member at the time, denied in her testimony in 2010 that she ever asked to see John V. Polio, then the police chief, when she entered the station where her daughter was being held after the shooting. Polio has died.

That account was contradicted at the inquest by Braintree police Officer Ronald Solimini, one of the officers who took her daughter into custody.

“And when she came in she was saying that she wanted to speak to John V or John Polio,’’ he said. “She kept on calling him by his first name . . . the only reason I can remember that is because I always called him Chief Polio or Chief, you know. I never heard anybody call him John before, so I mean that’s how come I remember that part.’’

On Feb. 13, 2010, Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier held a press conference in which he questioned how the department handled the investigation at the time and seemed to suggest that Judith Bishop’s position in the town may have influenced Polio to release her daughter on the day of the shooting.

Police waited 11 days from the shooting to interview the family.

During testimony at the inquest, Samuel Bishop described seeing his son in the hospital after the shooting.

“He came by on a gurney and I wanted to leave to see him, but he looked at me. Now, they keep saying he was dead but he didn’t seem dead to me. He looked at me. His head went like this and he looked at me. I wanted to go to him and they stopped me . . . They were going into the operating room and that’s what happened.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.