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Bishop indicted in brother’s death

New look at 1986 case results in a charge of first-degree murder

By Donovan Slack and Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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CANTON — Nearly 24 years after Amy Bishop fired a 12-gauge shotgun into the chest of her 18-year-old brother, a grand jury indicted her yesterday on a charge of first-degree murder.

The indictment in the 1986 slaying, which authorities had originally declared an accident, was handed up four months after the 45-year-old college professor was charged with a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama Huntsville, killing three colleagues and injuring three others.

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, announcing the indictment during a press conference, said law enforcement authorities in Massachusetts failed decades ago.

“Jobs weren’t done, responsibilities weren’t met, justice wasn’t served,’’ Keating said.

He added that while Seth Bishop may not have received justice immediately, the once promising youth with an affinity for the violin now has an advocate. “The job of a district attorney is to speak for those who can’t speak, to seek justice for those who aren’t here to demand it,’’ Keating said.

A conviction in 1986 might have changed Amy Bishop’s life, potentially averting the Alabama tragedy, the district attorney said.

“My heart goes out to them,’’ he said of the Huntsville victims.

Keating’s office lodged a warrant with Alabama authorities yesterday, requesting Bishop’s extradition to Massachusetts to face the murder charge after her triple-murder case in Huntsville is adjudicated.

Keating acknowledged that Bishop, who could face the death penalty if convicted in Alabama, may never stand trial for her brother’s killing, but he did not rule it out.

“You never know,’’ he said.

Huntsville attorney Roy W. Miller, who represents Bishop in the Alabama shootings, declined to comment on the new indictment.

In some of their first public comments since the Huntsville shootings, Bishop’s parents, Judith and Sam Bishop, released a scalding four-page statement that proclaimed their daughter’s innocence and accused the news media of sensationalism and law enforcement of finger-pointing.

“This prejudicial, biased review of the 1986 facts is an enormous waste of public resources that does not in any way provide a benefit to the public and proceeds only for the purposes of assessing blame where no blame was involved,’’ the Bishops said in the statement, released by their lawyer, Bryan J. Stevens of Quincy.

“We know that what happened 24 years ago to our son, Seth, was an accident,’’ the statement said. “Despite all the finger-pointing among local police, State Police, and the district attorney’s office, there is no evidence that Seth’s death was not an accident.’’

At the time of her brother’s death, on Dec. 6, 1986, Amy Bishop told police she took her father’s shotgun, loaded it, fired a shot into her bedroom wall, then went downstairs to the kitchen and shot her brother in the chest. She said she accidentally fired the gun while trying to figure out how to unload it.

Bishop then fled the home, tried to commandeer a car at gunpoint from a Braintree auto dealership, and trained the gun on police, who eventually persuaded her to drop the weapon, according to police reports from 1986. Bishop was released within hours and did not face charges.

Keating said today that Amy Bishop had threatened two civilians and a police officer with the shotgun. However, he said, the statute of limitations on possible charges related to those incidents expired in 1992.

He said he does not expect any more charges from the grand jury in the 1986 case.

“With what we know right now, we do not have enough to sustain that,’’ Keating said, pointing out that a number of witnesses are dead, including the Braintree police captain who oversaw the investigation.

US Representative William D. Delahunt, who was Norfolk district attorney at the time of Seth Bishop’s death, and his former top assistant, John Kivlan, released a statement yesterday saying that they would have prosecuted Bishop at the time, but that Braintree police did not provide them with critical reports and crime scene photos.

One photo of Bishop’s bedroom, where she had loaded the gun, showed a National Enquirer article chronicling actions similar to hers that day.

The article reported that a teenager wielding a 12-gauge shotgun had killed the parents of actor Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing on the television show “Dallas,’’ then commandeered a getaway car at gunpoint from an auto dealership.

“Had this and other evidence been reported to the district attorney’s office at the time, it obviously would have been presented to a grand jury, and an indictment for intentional homicide or murder could have resulted at that time,’’ the statement said.

Former Braintree police chief John V. Polio, who ran the department in 1986 and has been criticized by former law enforcement colleagues for not having Bishop arrested at the time, defended his handling of the investigation yesterday, saying he learned only recently that police reports were not shared with the district attorney’s office and that there was evidence that suggested Seth Bishop’s slaying was not an accident.

“I don’t question myself one bit,’’ Polio said. “I did absolutely the right thing, because I took it for granted that [reports] were sent over to the DA’s office, when in fact there was a lack of communication that I was unaware of. I did nothing that I would change.’’

Polio said the murder indictment against Bishop “does not convince me in any way that she’s absolutely guilty.’’

The indictment follows a closed-door judicial inquest in April, during which Keating’s office presented evidence to Quincy District Court Judge Mark S. Coven over three days. Last month Coven filed a report on the proceedings in Norfolk Superior Court. That report and a transcript of the inquest were sealed, pending grand jury action.

Keating said yesterday that he expected the inquest records to remain sealed until Bishop is tried in her brother’s death. He said he expects Bishop’s family will fight their release.

Seth Bishop graduated from Braintree High School in 1986 and was a freshman at Northeastern University studying electrical engineering.

Amy Bishop graduated from Northeastern University, earned a doctorate 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.

In a telephone interview yesterday from his home in a suburb of Montgomery, Ala, Anderson’s father, Jim Anderson Sr., said that he wished justice had been served back in 1986.

“We lost a talented young man, a violinist,’’ Anderson said, referring to Seth Bishop. “If justice had prevailed when he was shot and law enforcement had handled it correctly, Amy would have been able to either get criminally charged or get help, one or the other.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.

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