Signora N.N. (bay_bus_rider) wrote in ontd_political,
Signora N.N.

A Previous Shooting Death at the Hands of Alabama Suspect

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The neurobiologist accused of killing three colleagues at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on Friday had fatally shot her brother in 1986 in suburban Boston, the authorities in Massachusetts confirmed while questioning how the first case was handled.

A woman is taken into custody by Huntsville police on Friday in connection with the shootings.

Early Saturday, police in Huntsville charged neurobiologist Amy Bishop, 42, with capital murder in the shootings during a faculty meeting that also left three wounded. Saturday afternoon, the police in Braintree, Mass., announced that Ms. Bishop had fatally wounded her brother in their home 24 years ago, which The Boston Globe first reported on its Web site on Saturday. Ms. Bishop was never charged and the case records are no longer available, the Braintree police chief said.

“The release of Ms. Bishop did not sit well with the police officers,” Chief Paul Frazier said in a statement, “and I can assure you that this would not happen in this day and age.”

Chief Frazier said that Ms. Bishop fatally shot Seth Bishop in an apparent argument, but the police at the time called it an accident.

At a news conference on Saturday, however, Chief Frazier denied the Massachusetts shooting was an accident, and told reporters that he thought there could be a “cover-up” involved.

Ms. Bishop may have had academic problems, but her business prospects seemed good. She and her husband, James Anderson, had invented an automated system for incubating cells that was designed as an improvement over the petri dish. The system was to be marketed by Prodigy Biosystems, which raised $1.2 million in capital financing.

“From the way it looked to us, looking from the outside, she’s had success,” said Krishnan Chittur, a chemical engineering professor. “I’ve been here longer than she has, and she’s had more success raising money than I’ve had.”

Mr. Chittur said Ms. Bishop was a respected scientist who nevertheless had trouble getting along with colleagues. As members of the biotechnology program, students have to pass core classes in biology, chemistry and chemical engineering. But Ms. Bishop became convinced, he said, that the chemical engineering professors were trying to keep biology students from succeeding by making the classes too difficult.

“It was one of those things that ultimately became irrational with her, in my opinion,” he said.

Ms. Bishop was also a critic of a new policy to require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus, and was involved in an effort to censure the university president, David B. Williams, over that and other policies, according to Richard Lieu, a Distinguished Professor of Astrophysics at the University.

She was not the only vocal protestor. Last month, the censure vote failed, 20 to 18.

“I don’t believe this is related,” Dr. Lieu said in a telephone interview.

Andrew Ols, a senior, said he had been in a biology laboratory in the Shelby Center less than five minutes before the shooting began. Knowing now that a faculty member was charged and that no students were injured or targeted, he said, “there’s more shock than there is fear.”

Kourtney Lattimore, a sophomore nursing student, had classes with both Mr. Leahy and Ms. Bishop this semester. Mr. Leahy, she said, was very passionate about teaching. On Wednesday, he used students as stand-ins for a live demonstration of how macrophages and T-cells interact. She said Ms. Bishop’s class, Anatomy and Physiology II, caused grumbling and complaints, in part because there was so much material to cover.

“She might have been aware that people were frustrated with the class, but I don’t think she knew how to do it differently,” Ms. Lattimore said. She said she tuned out during Ms. Bishop’s lectures and stories, but added, “She was really passionate about her research — that’s something we all knew, that she really loved to do her research.”

On Ms. Bishop’s faculty Web page, she listed several of her academic publications, many of which had to do with her interest in the role of nitric oxide in the central nervous system. She also said she was developing a neural computer that used living neurons taken from adult stem cells and the cells of bony fish and enriched with nitric oxide.

Ms. Bishop and her husband, who was questioned by the police on Friday, have four children.

David Karabinos, the chairman of BizTech, a Huntsville mentoring company that helped Ms. Bishop and her husband develop the incubation technology, described her “as a passionate person in general — about the research and her activities as a professor.”

He said the members of the business technology group were all shocked by the events of Friday afternoon.

“There was no hint of what happened,” Mr. Karabinos said in a telephone interview. He acknowledged that Ms. Bishop had mentioned her tenure situation, saying she had been “very nervous about it over the last several months.”

He said that at the time, Ms. Bishop fired at least three shots and fled into the street before police took her into custody at gunpoint, he said. Before she could be charged, then-police chief John Polio released her to the custody of her mother.

In 1986, The Boston Globe reported Mr. Polio as saying that Ms. Bishop, then in her late teens, asked her mother, Judith, how to unload a 12-gauge shotgun. While Ms. Bishop was handling the weapon, it fired, hitting her brother in the abdomen.

Twenty-four years later, Ms. Bishop, a grant-winning scientist and mother of four, is charged with murder. If convicted, she would be eligible for the death penalty in Alabama.

The shootings on the university campus opened a window into the pressure-cooker world of biotechnology start-ups, where scientists often depend on their association with academia for a leg up. Ms. Bishop was part of a start-up that had won an early round of financing in a highly competitive environment, but people who knew her said she had learned shortly before the shooting that she had been denied tenure at the university.

On Friday, Ms. Bishop presided over her regular neuroscience class before going to an afternoon biology faculty meeting on the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology.

There she sat quietly for about 30 or 40 minutes, said one faculty member who had spoken to people who were in the room. Then Ms. Bishop pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun and began shooting, firing several rounds before her gun either jammed or ran out of ammunition, the police said. At least one person in the room tried to stop Ms. Bishop and prevent further bloodshed, said Sgt. Mark Roberts of the Huntsville Police Department.

After Ms. Bishop left the room, the police said, she dumped the gun — for which she did not have a permit — in a second-floor bathroom. The people left behind barred the door, fearing she would return, the faculty member said.

Ms. Bishop was arrested outside the building minutes later, Sergeant Roberts said at a morning news conference on Saturday.

The 911 call came at 4:10 p.m., the authorities said. Few students were in the building, and none were involved in the shooting, said Ray Garner, a university spokesman.

Officials said the dead were all biology professors: G. K. Podila, the department’s chairman, who is a native of India, according to a family friend who answered the phone at his house; Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel D. Johnson Sr. Two other biology professors, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera and Joseph G. Leahy, as well as a professor’s assistant, Stephanie Monticciolo, were at Huntsville Hospital. Mr. Cruz-Vera was in fair condition; the others were in critical condition.

Mr. Garner said Ms. Bishop, who arrived in the 2003-2004 academic year, was first told last spring that she had been denied tenure. Generally, the university does not allow professors to stay on after six years if they have not been granted tenure, and this would have been the final semester of Ms. Bishop’s sixth year.

The university does have an appeals process, and people who knew Ms. Bishop said she had appealed the decision.

Ms. Bishop was quick to talk about her tenure worries, even to people she had just met. A businessman who met her at a technology open house in January, and who asked not to be named because of the close-knit nature of the science community in Huntsville, said, “She began to talk about her problems getting tenure in a very forceful and animated way, saying it was unfair.”

“She seemed to be one of these persons who was just very open with her feelings,” he said. “A very smart, intense person who had a variety of opinions on issues.”



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