THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Globe Editorial

Layers of deceit, incompetence surround Seth Bishop’s death

March 3, 2010

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NO ONE in authority spoke for 18-year-old Seth Bishop of Braintree in 1986 after he was shot to death by his sister Amy Bishop, the woman accused of killing three colleagues last month at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Someone may at last when a judicial inquest into the death gets underway in the coming weeks.

The inquest initiated by Norfolk District Attorney William Keating is the best chance to peel away the layers of deceit, incompetence, or both that surround this case. Quincy District Judge Mark Coven will be required to consider all material circumstances attending the death of Seth Bishop and, if possible, determine if he was the victim of murder, manslaughter, or any other offense.

Coven and Keating will have their hands full. The finger-pointing among Braintree Police, State Police, and members of the district attorney’s office at the time knows no bounds. The latest to weigh in is retired State Trooper Brian Howe, who led the 1986 investigation into the shooting death. But leadership was nowhere to be found near Braintree that day. Neither Howe nor any other state trooper attached to the Norfolk district attorney even bothered to respond to the death scene. And Howe would eventually close the case and rule it accidental largely on the word of Braintree police, despite his failure to review police reports and crime scene photos. And the shooting barely registered with US Representative William Delahunt, the Norfolk DA at the time.

There’s so much more. Former Braintree chief John Polio has professed he didn’t know that Bishop pointed a shotgun at his own officers after she fled her home. A normal chief would be commending his officers for disarming and arresting such a suspect. But in Braintree, Amy Bishop was released without charges and not even interviewed until 11 days after the shooting.

Did Bishop’s mother, Judith, an elected member of the Braintree town meeting, have unusual access or influence in the department? It’s a key question for the inquest.

Some might chalk the whole thing up to the incompetence of a small-town police force. But proper protocol appears to have been followed just days later by Braintree and state police when a woman was murdered in a Braintree convenience store. The inquest needs to determine what was so different about the Bishop case.

Inquests are not trials per se, but a way to determine if a crime has been committed. They are not open to the public. But the public needs answers, and especially the families of the people slain in Alabama whose loved ones might be alive today had Bishop been held accountable in 1986.

The transcripts of this inquest will be eagerly awaited by everyone concerned about what looks more each day like a monumental miscarriage of justice in Braintree.

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