U.S. Rep. William Delahunt has exacerbated public suspicion over the 1986 Amy Bishop investigation and raised new questions about HIS role in the decision to set Bishop free.
This week, U.S. Rep. William Delahunt spoke publicly and took questions, for the first time, about his decision not to charge Amy Bishop with a crime in connection with the shooting death of her brother Seth in 1986.
Rather than taking responsibility, Delahunt pointed the finger of blame at Braintree cops, claiming it was their fault he knew nothing about the fact that after Bishop shot her brother to death, she ran to a nearby auto body shop and aimed the weapon at an employee. Delahunt said he would have filed weapons charges against Bishop, had he known, so that she could have gotten necessary “mental health” services.
Hardly an enlightening press conference, Delahunt exacerbated public suspicion, and raised new questions about HIS role in the decision to set Bishop free.
Here are just a few gaping holes that keep getting bigger:
1. He suggested that the controversy surrounding him involves whether he should have charged Amy Bishop with a weapons-related crime – but try as he might to re-frame the issue – Delahunt knows that the real question is whether the shooting death of Amy’s brother was a murder or an accident. That’s it. No matter how much he WANTS people to think about the issue differently, this is the only real controversy and Delahunt has yet to explain his decision to rule the case an accident when all the evidence EXCEPT the family’s inconsistent and biased statements, suggests the shooting was an intentional execution.
2. He blames Braintree police for failing to give their reports to his office. But in every homicide case, it is the District Attorney – NOT the local police – who decides whether criminal charges are warranted. Delahunt KNEW Braintree cops responded to the scene because it was front page news at the Patriot Ledger for several days. If Braintree cops really didn’t hand over their reports to his office (which strains credulity), then Delahunt should have talked in person to the half-dozen cops who responded to the incident. He makes no claim that his office tried to speak with ANY Braintree cop – or even that he REQUESTED the reports or that anyone in the Braintree Police Department refused his office’s request for information.
3. Delahunt claims Bishop’s confrontation with the guy at the auto body shop would have been the decisive factor in his determination to file charges. But whether a shooting death is caused by “accident” is not determined based on what happened 20 minutes AFTER the shooting. Post-incident behavior can have SOME bearing on the question, but the key facts to examine are:
a. Whether the shooter had motive to kill (Delahunt knew Amy had been in some sort of fight in the home – but he never asked what it was about).
b. Whether the autopsy findings support an “accident” theory (Delahunt knows that the autopsy is a critical piece of evidence in nearly every homicide case, especially when there’s a claim of “accident’, and yet he makes no mention of it as significant to his determination that the incident was an “accident”).
c. Whether the nature of the weapon precludes a finding of “accident” (it is virtually impossible for Amy to have fired a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun by “accident” – especially after she had already fired at least one other shot right before the deadly blast that killed her brother. It takes two hands and intentional conduct to pump and re-load such a weapon).
Delahunt has yet to explain any of these things – choosing instead to shift the public’s attention toward the incident at the auto body shop. If Delahunt knew Bishop fled the scene, shotgun in hand, (which he HAD to know because this fact was front page news at the time), then he had enough reason NOT to rule the case an “accident.”
4. Trooper Howe – who was assigned as a state police homicide investigator on behalf of Delahunt’s office – filed a report concluding that the shooting was “accidental” based solely on the statements of Amy Bishop and her family. Howe and Delahunt both know that biased family members cannot dictate that an apparent homicide be declared an “accident.” Howe isn’t speaking publicly right now – which is suspicious, though ultimately it doesn’t matter because the buck stops with Delahunt.
Even without information from Braintree cops, Delahunt had possession of the ballistics report regarding the shotgun Amy used to kill her brother. The gun was examined by the State Police Crime Lab – which would have been under Delahunt’s control. Yet Delahunt and Howe’s report make no mention of the nature of the weapon or the results from the State Police ballistics unit – or the fact that the weapon was a pump-action shogun, which fact alone establishes with near-certainty that the shooting could not have been accidental.
5. Delahunt also had independent control over the autopsy, which would have been critical to a determination that the shooting was “accidental” because autopsies in shooting deaths show the trajectory of the wound. For example, a bullet that goes “straight” through a body- as apparently was the case with Amy’s brother – would disprove that the weapon went off “by accident” because an “accidental” shooting would create an “angled” rather than “straight” trajectory.
The autopsy was NOT under the control of the Braintree Police, yet neither Delahunt nor Howe make any mention of it or whether the wound was consistent with the statements Amy and her family made about how the shooting happened.
That Delahunt claims he would have gotten Amy Bishop “mental health” care in 1986 if he’d known about the auto body shop incident is curious. How can he possibly know, today, that Bishop needed psychological intervention back then? If she was furious with her brother – and shot him in anger – she deserved prosecution for murder, not an inpatient commitment. Shooting a bunch of university colleagues seems nutty, for sure, but on what facts does Delahunt base his view now, that she was unstable – rather than merely rageful – back then?
The evidence strongly suggests Amy was very angry in 1986 about something that was going on in her home – and whatever that reason was, it caused her to grab a shotgun and take it to her bedroom. According to one police report – she was apparently sitting in her bed when she shot the gun the first time – toward the entry door to her room which was across from the staircase to the first floor. Another shot went off in the foyer – which could mean she chased her brother downstairs with the weapon and missed, again, when she tried to shoot him near the front door. It’s unclear whether the shot in the foyer was before or after the shotgun blast that killed her brother, but we know that Amy ultimately went to the kitchen – where, according to one report – she shot her brother “straight” through the upper abdomen.
The she fled the scene – with shotgun in hand. Howe and Delahunt both knew she ran off WITH the weapon in hand because it was front page news in the Patriot Ledger on December 8, 1986. This, more than anything else proves the crime was not an “accident” because while a frightened teenager who accidentally shoots a sibling might run away – she wouldn’t take the shotgun with her.
Howe’s report erroneously describes Amy as a 19 year-old even though Amy was actually 20 and three grades ahead of her brother in school. Suggesting she was an “Irish twin” to her sibling-victim makes her seem more sympathetic, younger and too close in age to her 18 year-old victim to have WANTED him to die for some malicious reason. Why would a report under Delahunt’s authority get the shooter’s age wrong – and in a manner that created a false sense that Amy was essentially a kid?
Even a superficial assessment of the objective evidence shows Amy was no frightened teenager who ran away because she was terrified after “accidentally” killing her beloved brother. None of the objective evidence supports this theory at all.
Amy was angry – very angry – for reasons that remain a mystery. And then someone covered up not only what she did, but the reasons why she did it.
And now the governor’s office has announced it will conduct it’s own investigation – though why the governor thinks this is his business is raising new eyebrows of suspicion.
The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth, and should be in charge of any investigation.
Having a politician with almost no law enforcement experience “investigate” the case is already being described at the water-coolers as a partisan favor. The public expecation is already in place that the governor’s report will conclude: “mistakes were made but evidence shows it was an accident.” Nobody will believe it – and the public will become even more incredulous and convinced there’s something sinister afoot.
Why is the governor going to waste tax dollars fueling the public’s contempt?
The only real question worth investigating is – who had a reason to do a big favor for Amy and her family? Some news stories mention that Amy’s mother, Judy Bishop, was involved in Braintree city politics or wielded influence over municipal employees. But none of that explains why an apparent murder case went away so quickly.
Working at the town hall might get you pass on a parking ticket – but it doesn’t explain the disappearance of police files and the mysterious non-prosecution of an apparent homicide. The real answers lie with Judy Bishop, her husband, Trooper Howe and Amy herself. But none of them are talking –– yet.
Who wants to bet against me that Amy’s lawyer in Alabama is already planning to leverage the secrets in this case to get his client an undeserved “plea bargain” that lands Amy in a nuthouse instead of prison – where the answers to the only questions that matter will stay locked in a rubber room – and medicated into silence?
Patriot Ledger columnist Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the newspaper.