BOSTON — A former Ipswich woman convicted of fatally shooting three colleagues at an Alabama university won’t face a Massachusetts murder trial in the 1986 death of her brother after prosecutors withdrew their indictment.
The announcement yesterday by the Norfolk district attorney follows Amy Bishop’s sentencing this week to life in prison without parole for the killings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in February 2010.
In a statement, Michael Morrissey said the life sentence his office would have pursued in the killing of 18-year-old Seth Bishop was identical to the punishment she received after her guilty plea in Alabama, so there was no need to move forward.
“We will not move to have her returned to Massachusetts,” Morrissey said. “The penalty we would seek for a first degree murder conviction is already in place.”
The office withdrew the indictment “without prejudice,” meaning Morrissey could reinstate it if something went wrong in the Alabama sentence, though he said he considered that unlikely.
Bishop said she accidentally shot her brother while she was trying to unload her father’s shotgun in the family’s Braintree home. Her mother backed up the story, and authorities ruled the death accidental.
After Bishop was arrested in the Alabama murders, Norfolk prosecutors took another look at the case and concluded that local police didn’t share important evidence, including an alleged carjacking attempt by Bishop after the shooting.
Several key witnesses in the 1986 case are dead, including former Braintree police Chief John Polio. Asked if that would have complicated things at trial, spokesman David Traub said the district attorney’s office acknowledges it would have been a difficult case.
Bryan Stevens, attorney for Bishop’s parents, Judith and Sam Bishop, said he wasn’t surprised by Morrissey’s decision.
“They didn’t have a case to start with,” he said.
In a transcript of the Norfolk inquest, which led to the indictment, Bishop’s parents said their daughter was traumatized by a previous burglary at their home and may have had her father’s 12-gauge shotgun because she’d been home alone and was afraid.
Her mother said that shortly after she and her son arrived home with groceries, Amy Bishop came into the room to ask for help unloading the gun and it accidentally went off, killing Seth Bishop.
But Norfolk prosecutors said Braintree police didn’t share key details about the incident with prosecutors, including that Bishop tried to commandeer a getaway car at gunpoint at a local car dealership, then refused to drop her gun until officers repeatedly ordered her to do so.
Also, investigators studying an old crime scene photo noticed she had an article about the 1986 killings of “Dallas” actor Patrick Duffy’s parents, which described how a teenager allegedly shot Duffy’s parents with a 12-gauge shotgun and stole a getaway car from an auto dealership.
Then-district attorney William Keating, now a congressman, said at the time of Bishop’s indictment that he didn’t understand why charges weren’t initially filed.
“Jobs weren’t done, responsibilities weren’t met and justice wasn’t served,” he said.
Bishop’s parents said Keating’s review was biased and rooted in finger pointing between past and present police officers and prosecutors. They called it “an enormous waste of public resources.”