THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Charges considered in Bishop case

Grand jury hears new evidence in 1986 shooting of her brother

By Donovan Slack and Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / June 5, 2010

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Nearly 24 years after Amy Bishop fatally shot her 18-year-old brother at their Braintree home in what was then declared an accident, prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury that will decide whether criminal charges should be brought in the case, according to several people involved in the probe.

The decision by Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating to take the case to a grand jury signals that a judicial inquest, which ended recently and issued a sealed report to the prosecutor, found there was enough evidence to potentially warrant charges against Bishop, now 45.

Those familiar with the investigation did not say what charge was being pursued. But murder is the only charge on which the statute of limitations has not run out.

Keating would not comment yesterday on his decision to convene the grand jury to reexamine the 1986 killing, which Braintree police, State Police, and the Norfolk district attorney at the time concluded was a tragic family accident. That all changed when Bishop, a college professor, allegedly went on a shooting rampage in February at the University of Alabama Huntsville, killing three colleagues and wounding three others after being denied tenure.

Bishop’s mother, Judith, who told police decades ago that she was in the room when her 21-year-old daughter accidentally shot her 18-year-year-old son, Seth, with a shotgun, told the Globe last night: “I’m not well. My husband’s not well. I don’t know how I can face any of this.’’

She declined to answer any questions about the grand jury investigation, saying: “I can’t talk to you. I’m sorry.’’

Huntsville, Ala., attorney Roy W. Miller, who represents Bishop in the shootings there, said he could not talk about the grand jury proceedings in Massachusetts because he’s under a gag order in Alabama. But, he said: “It does not surprise me. We’ve got no control over whatever they do up there. We just have to live with whatever they do up there.’’

Former Braintree police chief John V. Polio, who ran the department when Bishop killed her brother, said he has received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury at Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham on Thursday.

He said it was “a good move’’ for Keating to call a grand jury to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought.

“I would think from the point of seeing justice done they want to clear the air to determine whether Amy Bishop did accidentally kill her brother or, who knows, the probability that it was more than just an accident,’’ Polio said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It’s a question that has to be answered or at least try to be answered, not that they’ll ever get the answer.’’’’

Contradictory reports about Bishop’s killing of her brother and the investigation that followed it surfaced after she was arrested in Alabama.

By her own account, Bishop took her father’s shotgun on Dec. 6, 1986, loaded it and fired a shot in her bedroom, then went downstairs to the kitchen and shot her brother in the chest.

According to police reports, Amy Bishop told police at the time of her brother’s death that she had taken her father’s shotgun and loaded it, but couldn’t figure how to unload it. When she went to ask for help, Bishop told police, the gun accidentally went off, striking her brother in the chest.

She then fled the home, tried to commandeer a car at gunpoint from an auto dealership, and trained the shotgun on police, who eventually persuaded her to drop the weapon, reports say. Bishop was released within hours and did not face charges.

Keating, who reviewed the police reports after the Alabama shootings, said in February that Bishop should have been charged at the time with assault with a dangerous weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm, and illegal possession of ammunition.

In addition, Keating’s investigators found, in a crime scene photo of Bishop’s bedroom where she loaded the 12-gauge shotgun, a National Enquirer article chronicling actions similar to Bishop’s that day. The article reported that a teenager wielding a 12-gauge shotgun killed the parents of actor Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing on the television show “Dallas,’’ and then commandeered a getaway car at gunpoint from an auto dealership. Keating said that could suggest Bishop intended to kill her brother.

At Keating’s request, Quincy District Court Judge Mark S. Coven conducted an inquest, hearing testimony from 19 witnesses over three days during the closed-door proceedings in April. Last month, he provided a report to Keating, who said it would remain sealed until he decided whether to pursue charges.

Judith Bishop, who testified before the inquest, and her husband, Samuel, have insisted through their lawyer that the death of their son was a tragic accident.

Afterward, Bishop graduated from Northeastern University, earned a doctorate in genetics at Harvard University, then worked in labs at Boston hospitals. In 2003, she moved to Alabama with her husband, Jim Anderson Jr., and their four children.

Last night, Needham attorney Timothy M. Burke, a former state prosecutor who handled homicide cases, said the prosecution’s decision to call a grand jury “clearly means the judge found probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred and that particular crime is likely to be murder, because that’s the only crime for which there is no statute of limitations.’’

He added, “It’s ironic in that it took the occurrence of another horrific tragedy to bring the light on a crime that occurred almost 24 years ago.’’

Bishop’s father-in-law, Jim Anderson Sr., who lives in a suburb of Montgomery, Ala., said in a telephone interview yesterday that the judge who handled the inquest had an obligation to recommend a grand jury investigation if he found any evidence that called for further review.

“I don’t have a problem with that, and I’m sure no sane person would,’’ Anderson said of the grand jury probe. “It may come out positive or negative. Who knows for sure? I don’t know; you don’t know. The only people who know this are Judy Bishop and Amy. Let the evidence speak for itself.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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