Parents defend ex-Ala. prof in brother's shooting

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2012 5:04 PM
Parents defend ex-Ala. prof in brother's shooting

The parents of an Alabama professor accused of shooting three of her colleagues to death in 2010 say she was a well-adjusted, "family-oriented" girl growing up and didn't deliberately kill her brother in Massachusetts in 1986, according to testimony during a closed-door inquest after the Alabama shootings.

Massachusetts authorities convened the inquest to reinvestigate the shooting death of 18-year-old Seth Bishop after Amy Bishop was charged in the February 2010 killings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville during a faculty meeting.

Bishop has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the Alabama charges. Police and people who knew Bishop have said she was angry over the school's refusal to grant her tenure, a decision that effectively would have ended her employment in the biology department at UAH.

In a redacted transcript of the inquest released late Tuesday, Bishop's parents say she shot her brother accidentally while trying to unload her father's shotgun at the family's Braintree home.

After the inquest was completed, Amy Bishop was indicted for murder in her brother's death, which authorities had originally ruled an accident.

Her parents staunchly defended her during their inquest testimony, saying she was traumatized by a burglary at their home the year before the shooting. Her father theorized that she had been holding his shotgun the day Seth was shot because she had been home alone for about 2 1/2 hours and was afraid.

"And she made a terrible mistake in acting on that fear. But it's my view once she found that she was in a dilemma that her total intent was to disarm that weapon," Samuel Bishop testified.

"The fact that she was in that house for that long and the robbery, I think, was never taken into account," he said.

Judith Bishop described the shooting in heart-breaking detail. The judge presiding at the inquest offered her water several times as she struggled through her testimony.

She said she arrived home at about 2 p.m. that day and her son pulled into the driveway right after her. She said they both carried grocery bags into the house and were putting them on the kitchen counter when Amy came into the room and asked for help unloading the gun.

"He went to reach for it. I mean, he put his hands up to reach for it, and I said, `Don't point it at anyone,' and she turned, and it fired," Judith Bishop testified.

"That gun barrel went right past me and over to him and fired," she said. "I wish it had hit me instead."

Samuel Bishop said Amy had no problems as a girl and went on to become a good mother to her children.

"She was totally family oriented, and she was family oriented when she was with us," he said.

The redacted transcript was released publicly after The Boston Globe successfully challenged a judge's decision to keep the inquest records sealed, arguing that the documents could shed light on why authorities didn't originally prosecute Bishop in her brother's death.

Bishop's Massachusetts attorney, Larry Tipton, had said that release of the inquest materials could prejudice potential jurors against her in both Alabama and Massachusetts.

Tipton said Wednesday that the public release of the transcript "will undoubtedly result in commentary by persons purporting to know the truth about what really happened in 1986."

"Whatever is said neither detracts from Amy Bishop's presumption of innocence nor will it alter the truth of the enormous family tragedy that occurred in 1986 resulting from the accidental death of a cherished family member," Tipton said.

The inquest also included testimony from numerous Braintree police officers who responded to the shooting at the Bishop home.

Several officers said Amy Bishop, then 21, was calm while she was being questioned about the shooting at the police station.

Retired Deputy Police Chief James Sullivan said he had written down "murder," "assault with a dangerous weapon, two counts" on a booking sheet. The assault charges related to accusations that Amy Bishop pointed her father's gun at two police officers after she fled the family's home following her brother's shooting. Police also said she pointed the gun at two workers at a local car dealership and demanded the keys to a car. The two officers testified that she didn't put the gun down until after they repeatedly ordered her to do so.

Sullivan said his interview with Amy Bishop ended when Judith Bishop arrived at the station and told her daughter she didn't want her answering any more questions.

"And I asked her if she shot her brother on purpose, and she said, no, she had not shot her brother on purpose," Sullivan testified.

Another officer testified that about 15 to 20 minutes into the interview, Amy Bishop left the station with her mother without being booked on any charges.