Massachusetts Judges and Amy Bishop and John Williams

You do remember the story of Amy Bishop. When we learned of her she was the 44-year-old mother of four children who taught anatomy and neuroscience at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She attended Braintree High School,  graduated from Northeastern University, and received her Ph D in genetics from Harvard.

We would read back in February 2010 how she appeared perfectly normal as she gave her morning lectures at the university. Later that day she attended a faculty meeting of the biology department. After sitting quietly during the meeting she got up with a 9mm Ruger handgun and started to execute her fellow faculty members by shooting them in the head. She managed to murder three and wound three others before she ran out of ammunition.

it was a terrible tragedy. But apparently reading in the local newspapers it could have been prevented had the justice system in Massachusetts acted properly back in 1986 when she shot and murdered her 16-year-old brother at their home in Braintree with a shotgun firing into his chest in the kitchen in front of their mother.

The Braintree police investigated the shooting and determined that it was accidental. The State Police homicide investigator after speaking with the police agreed.  The DA’s office where I worked at the time was never notified of the incident.

After shooting her brother, Bishop ran from her house with the shotgun and pointed it at some people in the area. The Braintree police eventually brought her into custody. She was arrested, taken to the police station, later released to her mother.

She was not charged with the murder. However, she was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. She was arraigned before the court. The judge hearing of the accidental shooting and the tragedy she caused in her family agreed to dismiss the case if she underwent a period of counseling. The judge did not want her to have a record because it would interfere with her plan to go on to higher education. In imposing the sentence the judge said: “This accidental shooting by the daughter has caused this family the loss of its only other child, a son. It is hard to perceive of a greater tragedy hitting a family. This family has suffered enough.”

Of course, everything following the word “However” which is in parenthesis is not true. Bishop was never brought before a judge. But had she been, I assume the outcome would have been something like that. And, I can only believe that the judge who would have acted in a compassionate manner would have been the subject of much vitriol for not having locked Bishop up. Had she been in prison, the thinking would go, she would not have committed the Alabama murders.

As it was the governor, the Norfolk DA, the new Braintree police chief and the media acted as if somehow a great miscarriage of justice had occurred by not anticipating that a quarter century later Bishop would murder others. The DA began a new investigation, hearings were held, grand juries called.  Bishop would be charged with the crime. Later the charges would be dropped. It was all so much foolishness.

The last few days in the news we have read stories about two Massachusetts judges who lowered the bail from that recommended by the district attorney’s office on John Williams who is suspected of murdering New Hampshire’s Maine’s Somerset County Deputy Sheriff Corporal Eugene Cole.  Reading the stories you are supposed to believe that had the original $10,000 bail been imposed back on March 22 at the time of his arrest rather than having been reduced to $7,500 and again to $5,000 that Williams would not have committed the murder.

If he could come up with the 5,000 bail he very well could have raised the $10,000.  Or, in the alternative that somehow the judges should have recognized he was going to murder someone in the near future.

What has to be understood is there are literally thousands upon thousands of bail or sentence judgments made by judges every month. They are not going to be 100% correct but surprisingly considering the number of decisions they make most do as well as can be expected.

To expect judges to be prophets or predict the future is folly. Can the system for bail and sentencing be better, of course. I’ve frequently noted that little has changed in the handling of criminals since the 19th century. I’ve made suggestions for making changes in the past but judges do rebel against change.

Even bringing our method of handling crimes up to the 21st century standards will not make it 100% fool-proof. There will always be some ticking time bomb that will explode. And, the judge will be faulted for not being Cassandra-like.



6 thoughts on “Massachusetts Judges and Amy Bishop and John Williams

  1. I was confused about Bishop given post murder behavior. It seems there should have been some follow-up assessment. But given the investigative reports by the police, I don’t think the judge should be the victim of 20/20 hindsight.

    These cases should be differentiated from the cop killer on the Cape. Another heinous example of failure of the whole system was the release of a man convicted of brutal assault of a Milton woman many tears ago. In open court after sentencing, he said to the judge that if he ever got out he was going to kill that bitch. After a short time in prison he is given a week-end pass and makes a bee line to Milton and kills the girl.

    Nobody had the decency to alert the family that he was out.

  2. Ask who was one of Judge Heffernans major supporters and the reason for the smear
    is obvious.I had the honor to sit with him in Somerville court. He was a great mentor and remains a close friend.
    Bail hearings can be mine fields. I haven’t read the latest criminal justice reform
    legislation that is working it’s way through the legislature but I would bet it has a section calling for more leniency in setting bail. If that’s the case and another uproar
    arises when someone is released and then fails to appear for a hearing,who should
    be taking the heat?

  3. All very true. I recall panicking once when I read in the Lynn Item about a gay man murdering his partner. The names were familiar and I was pretty sure I had denied a 209A order. When I checked though I found it was the murderer who had been looking for the order.
    There have been changes in the law but they are mostly in the wrong direction.

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