CANTON, Mass. – A Massachusetts prosecutor ordered an inquest into Amy Bishop's 1986 fatal shooting of her brother, saying there are new questions about whether it was the accident investigators concluded at the time.
The handling of the case has been under scrutiny since Bishop was accused of killing three faculty colleagues in a shooting Feb. 12 at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
In announcing the inquest Thursday, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating revealed that investigators recently discovered that a newspaper on Bishop's floor the day she killed her brother described an incident with striking similarities to what Bishop did that day.
He said investigators found the date of the paper after enlarging a police photo, and it contained an article about someone killing a relative with a shotgun and stealing a getaway car from a car dealership.
Bishop shot and killed her brother, Seth, with a shotgun at their Braintree home. She then went to a car dealership body shop and tried to commandeer a car, police said. After her arrest, she told police that the weapon had accidentally discharged.
"We were struck by how parallel the circumstances were," he said. "That could go to the state of mind of Amy Bishop at the time."
Keating said the inquest would allow a judge to subpoena Bishop's parents, who refused to talk with two state troopers who went to their home last week, saying they had retained an attorney. Bishop's mother, Judith, was the only other witness to the killing.
"Had they cooperated and we thought their answers were forthright and truthful, this might not have been necessary," Keating said.
Bryan Stevens, an attorney for the Bishops, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Judge Mark Coven, presiding judge in Quincy District Court, will conduct the closed-door inquest and report his findings to Keating, who would then decide whether to issue an indictment. The only possible charge that could be filed is murder because the statute of limitations on all other counts, including manslaughter, has expired.
The fact that the only other eyewitness says the shooting was an accident is "a huge burden to overcome," Keating said.
David Frank, a former prosecutor who writes for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, said the rare inquest, and the chance to question the Bishops under the penalty of perjury, is simply about doing a proper investigation.
"It doesn't mean (the Bishops) are going to cooperate ... but in terms of doing an effective investigation and in terms of increasing the chances of getting at the truth, there's no doubt that it's always better to ask questions under oath," he said.
Police reports released by Keating last week said Amy Bishop told the officers she accidentally fired the shotgun in her bedroom, then went downstairs to ask her brother for help unloading the gun, which her father bought after a break-in.
She said after the gun accidentally went off again, hitting Seth, she fled, believing she dropped it. Bishop was later arrested at gunpoint with the shotgun after trying to commandeer a car at a local dealership. She said she did not remember anything from when she fired the gun the second time until she was at the police station.
Bishop was released after her mother came to the police station, and police didn't question Bishop and her family for 11 days, among the serious errors Keating said were committed in the 1986 investigation.
Keating said there are also no details about an argument between Bishop and her father that day. He said his investigation indicates Bishop was calm and cooperative after she was arrested, contrary to police assertions at the time that she was too hysterical to be questioned.
"The more information we got, the more we looked at reports, the more questions we had," Keating said.
The inquest won't focus on how the investigation was handled, but some of what the judge finds could be used by state police, who are reviewing the original investigations, Keating said.
Her brother's death is among several incidents involving Bishop, a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, that are being now re-examined, including when she and her husband James Anderson were questioned but never charged in the 1993 attempted mail bombing of a medical researcher who gave her a bad job review. The U.S. attorney in Boston is reviewing its actions in that case.
Bishop also was charged with assault and disorderly conduct after a fight over a child booster seat in a restaurant in 2002. The charges were dismissed after six months' probation.
Bishop 45, is charged with capital murder and attempted murder in the Alabama shooting, which wounded three other faculty members. Colleagues say she had complained for months about being denied the job protections of tenure.
University of Alabama-Huntsville spokesman Ray Garner confirmed to The Huntsville Times on Thursday that Bishop has been suspended retroactively to the day of the attack and will be fired.
A police spokesman in Huntsville, Ala., said it was unclear whether information gathered in a Massachusetts inquest could be used in the capital murder case against Bishop in Alabama.
"It's too bad they didn't do a a good investigation up there the first time," said Sgt. Mark Roberts of the Huntsville Police Department. "If they had in 1986, we might not be where we are today in 2010."