Inquest Scrutinizes Discrepancies In 1986 Shooting

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An inquest into the 1986 shooting death of Seth Bishop in his Braintree home continues in Quincy District Court Wednesday. Seth was the brother of Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama Huntsville professor accused of killing three colleagues in February.

Along with former and current police officers and a state trooper, Amy Bishop's mother and father testified Tuesday about the day their 18-year-old son was shot by his sister, then 20.

A brief investigation by Braintree and State Police in December 1986 led to the conclusion that Bishop had shot her brother accidentally.

After February's shootings in Alabama, the Norfolk district attorney's office conducted an internal review of the 1986 shooting. This inquest will determine if Bishop should now be charged with the murder of her brother.

By law, inquests are closed to the public. Rarely invoked, the procedure calls for a judge, acting without a jury, to determine "when, where, and by what means the person met his death."

"All the witnesses will testify, I'll ask most of the questions I imagine," began Assistant District Attorney Robert Nelson. "If the judge has any he will ask questions as well."

One piece of evidence reporters did see going in, however, was a shotgun in a carrying case. Outside the courtroom, reporters could hear the shotgun being pumped to firing position.

Nelson will call 18 witnesses in all.

One of them is Tom Pettigrew, who was working at a car dealership Dec. 6, 1986. After running out of her house where her brother lay dying, Bishop tried to commit an armed robbery of his car, he says.

"I have some experience hunting with my uncle and I knew she knew how to use the gun," Pettigrew said in his first public comments about the case. "She stuck it in my chest."

Pettigrew's testimony was never collected at the time by the state trooper who worked for the district attorney's office. It flies in the face of the testimony of Bishop and her parents back then, which suggested that she was unfamiliar with the working of shotguns.

It didn't stop her from aiming it at two sets of civilians that day and engaging in a standoff with Braintree police who seized her and brought her back to the station.

After leaving the Quincy courtroom yesterday, retired Braintree Police Sgt. Kenneth Brady was adamant that they had arrested Bishop that day. "We didn't know whether it was going to be manslaughter, assault and battery, we didn't know what it was going to be," Brady said.


It could have been assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. But then Bishop's mother stated she wanted to talk to the police chief.

"The deputy chief called and we were told not to book her and (to) release her to the parents," Brady said.

Brady said he was surprised and confused. Even the idea of Bishop's mother being allowed to walk into the interrogation room where she told her daughter to stop talking was off convention, according to experienced detectives.

Brady, who retired years ago, defends himself and the investigating police officers. "The uniform people did what they were supposed to do and the administration let us down," he said, referring to the former police chief and others.

When retired Braintree officer Tim Murphy emerged after testifying, he said he believed justice had been done in 1986.

"Were there things looking back that were overlooked that were important at the time that should have been checked out?" Murphy asked. "Everything that was supposed to be done. It was a very thorough investigation."

The parents of Bishop snuck into the court house and out again, unseen by reporters.

One piece of evidence reporters did see going in, however, was a shotgun in a carrying case. Outside the courtroom, reporters could hear the shotgun being pumped to firing position.

On Wednesday, eight more witnesses will testify, including the former police chief and the state police trooper who acknowledges he never went to the scene on the day of the killing and closed the case without ever seeing the Braintree police reports.

The assistant district attorney acknowledges key witnesses are dead and that Bishop herself will not testify. She's currently in an Alabama prison facing three charges of murder.

Complete Coverage:

This program aired on April 14, 2010.

Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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