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Brown election, Prince suicide top stories of 2010

By Mark Pratt
Associated Press / December 28, 2010

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BOSTON—From an unexpected election victory to a teenager's tragic suicide, the top Massachusetts news stories of 2010 sent powerful signals nationwide.

Scott Brown's election to the U.S. Senate in January helped spark a national Republican revolution that, ironically, appeared to fizzle out in his home state.

Phoebe Prince's suicide in January opened a national debate on school bullying.

Federal approval of an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound, the re-examination of Alabama murder suspect Amy Bishop's shady Massachusetts past, and the death of Olympic star Nancy Kerrigan's father were some of the state's other top headlines of 2010.

Running against an established opponent for the seat held for nearly half a century by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, in one of the staunchest of Democratic states, Brown wasn't supposed to stand a chance.

Instead, the little known Republican state senator from Wrentham beat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley.

It was a triumph the GOP hoped signaled a seismic shift to the right, not just in Massachusetts, but across the nation.

Brown himself said it was a "very powerful message that business as usual is just not going to be the way we do it."

They were only half right.

While the midterm elections in November swept the Republicans back into power in Washington, the Republican uprising in Massachusetts sputtered.

Brown's election, buoyed by the working class vote and helped by his opponent's lackluster campaign, resonated more outside Massachusetts than inside, said University of Massachusetts journalism professor Ralph Whitehead, who tracks politics and popular culture.

"After one Democratic candidate was caught off guard in January, no other Democrat was going to allow himself or herself to be caught off guard in November," he said. "Scott Brown's victory was a wakeup call for many Democrats in Massachusetts."

Gov. Deval Patrick retained the corner office despite a spirited challenge by Charles Baker. Democrats won every other constitutional office. The state's entirely Democratic congressional delegation stayed that way even though Republican challengers put up a fight in several districts.

It seemed the only thing that could prevent a Massachusetts Democrat from taking a seat in Congress was the U.S. Census. The Bay State lost one of its 10 seats in Congress when new population figures were released in December.

Prince, a 15-year-old sophomore and Irish immigrant was bullied into taking her own life, prosecutors said. Her death in January, in the quiet western Massachusetts town of South Hadley, led to anti-bullying legislation in the state and criminal charges against six of her fellow students.

One of the biggest stories didn't even originate in Massachusetts. When a University of Alabama-Huntsville professor in February shot six of her colleagues, killing three of them, it sparked an investigation that dug deep into her Massachusetts roots.

Amy Bishop had a violent past. She had shot her brother Seth to death in their Braintree home in 1986 when she was 21 and he was 18, and later was investigated in a pipe bomb plot.

Following the Alabama shootings, Massachusetts authorities reopened the investigation into her brother's death, ruled an accident at the time. In June, she was indicted on a murder charge in connection with his death.

Another top story was a decade in the making. A decade-long and often rancorous effort to win approval for a massive power-generating wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod reached a pinnacle in April when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave federal approval to the project.

Opponents of the $2 billion project said it could drive up energy costs, but supporters hailed it as an important source of renewable energy that would create jobs and reduce reliance on foreign oil.

What started as a death after a violent dispute in suburban Stoneham in January quickly developed into a major story. The victim it turned out, was 70-year-old Daniel Kerrigan, the loving and dedicated father of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. The suspect was none other than her own brother, Mark.

The seemingly perfect life of Kerrigan, the darling of the 1994 Winter Olympics, was exposed to the world when her brother, with a long history of brushes with the law, was charged with manslaughter in their father's death.

Philip Markoff also appeared to have an ideal life. A medical student engaged to be married, the New York man faced a murder charge for allegedly killing Julissa Brisman in April 2009, a masseuse he met in a Boston hotel after contacting her on Craigslist.

Markoff was found dead in August in his cell where he was being held pending trial, one day after what was supposed to be the one-year anniversary of his wedding. It was ruled a suicide.

One of the top stories was a real life Cold War-style spy thriller. A Cambridge couple living the typical American lifestyle were exposed as Russian agents. Tracey Foley and Donald Heathfield, as they were known to their American friends, were sent back to Russia in July as part of a spy swap.

Late in the year, Massachusetts made history when Roderick Ireland was installed as the state's first black chief justice. He was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to succeed Margaret Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.

Marshall, who retired, was the author of the SJC's landmark decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts.