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As more questions emerge about Amy Bishop and the quality of the investigation into the fatal shooting of her brother in 1986, a former Boston police lieutenant says his review of the case report (PDF) raises several red flags over the handling of what was deemed an accidental death.
"If someone threw this (case report) at me, I would have thrown it right back at them," Tom Nolan, who served 27 years with the Boston Police Department and is now a professor of criminology at Boston University, told WBUR in an interview Tuesday.
In 1986, Bishop killed her brother at home in Braintree, a case that was closed as accidental by the state police, but which has come under intense scrutiny in the days since the Harvard-educated neurobiologist was charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder after opening fire at a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama-Huntsville on Friday.
As part of his policing duties, Prof. Nolan reviewed reports from subordinate officers. After recently reviewing the death of 18-year-old Seth Bishop, he saw a number of issues with the investigation.
First, he said the police interview with family members was conducted 11 days after the shooting, apparently because they were too distraught to talk sooner. Nolan said that gap would have allowed the family "sufficient time to get their stories straight."
Nolan also expressed concerns about the overarching methodology of the interview process in general.
"In the interviews — I am very troubled by the interviews — typical law enforcement strategy is: You bring the suspect, and she's the shooter — whether she's guilty of anything or not, you bring her to the police station — and you interview her on your home turf," Nolan said. "That's criminal investigative practice 101. I mean, that is basic."
Nolan questioned the claim by Bishop's mother that she did not hear the gun go off. "I can't imagine a situation where you could have a shotgun discharge in a house and people not hearing it," he said.
Further, Nolan said the case report lacked interviews with the officers who responded to the 911 call and the EMS personnel. And while the report lists the cause of death, it leaves out the manner of death, determined by the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Seth Bishop.
“That’s a red flag,” Nolan said. “So, did the pathologist, in fact, determine that it was an accidental death or was it a homicide? We don’t know that.” He added later: “It appears as though the police themselves made the determination that this was an accidental shooting.”
Given the litany of missteps he sees with the case, Nolan said that if such an investigation were to occur today, a grand jury would be empaneled and witnesses called.
“It appears as though the police themselves made the determination that this was an accidental shooting."
--Tom Nolan, former lieutenant, Boston Police Department
Nolan also weighed in on the extent to which a person’s past should remain with them.
On Sunday, another twist emerged when a Boston law enforcement official said Bishop and her husband had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Bishop's at Children's Hospital in Boston.
Agents with both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Postal Service were aware of the 1986 case as they conducted the investigation into the attempted mail-bombing. And relatives of the three professors gunned down in Huntsville have questioned why Bishop was hired at the university after her involvement in both cases.
“I don’t think that information like this should necessarily follow a person around throughout their lives and their careers, particularly where law enforcement was, for whatever reason, unable to put together a criminal case,” Nolan said. “But, at least on its face it seems that the 1986 death investigation of Seth Bishop should have been followed up on."
“A grand jury should have been convened by the district attorney’s office and a case put together, possibly for involuntary manslaughter," Nolan said. "Whether or not a guilty verdict would have resulted would have been up to a judge or a jury, but that never occurred. And if it did, we would then have at least on record that this woman was charged with a crime of violence — and, yes, that should and would have followed her around.”
Click "Listen Now" to hear the full interview with Prof. Tom Nolan.
This program aired on February 16, 2010.
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