"Oops, I guess we forgot to charge the defendant with murdering her brother. We bad. We're on it now, though. Justice will be done."
That's the sum and substance of Norfolk, Massachusetts' District Attorney William R. Keating's explanation of his office's decision to charge Dr. Amy Bishop with the murder of her brother in 1986. Keating got to read his words in this morning's New York Times, no doubt robustly enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame.
There is a simpler and more direct explanation for the decision to charge Bishop in her brother's death almost a quarter of a century after the case was closed: Keating is piling on, looking for a little cheap glory as he drafts off the publicity arising from the charges pending against Dr. Bishop in an Alabama court. As the world knows, Dr. Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is charged with murdering rhree colleagues in a campus shooting spree. It is easy to pick on a defendant when she is down. Overcharging is the prosecutorial equivalent of a sucker punch.
Dr. Bishop was 21-years-old when she shot her 18-year-old brother to death. The police investigated and concluded that the shooting was accidental. The police gave her the benefit that comes of being a middle-class white woman. When her mother said the gun went off by accident as Dr. Bishop tried to clean it, the case was written off as a tragedy, but not a crime.
Two decades later Dr. Bishop stands charged with shooting three colleagues to death and injuring three others. She is no longer a darling of promise. We now know she dances to the beat of the heart of darkness. If she's killed now doesn't that mean that she intentionally killed before? So the Massachusetts case was reopened. Reports that had been mislaid now mysteriously appear. Allegations about Dr. Bishop surface that had been forgotten or swept under a rug. Suddenly, the good doctor is no longer entitled to the benefit of the doubt: She's treated like a street person now, and all inferences are drawn against her, rather than in her favor.
I don't know whether Dr. Bishop killed her brother intentionally. I suspect that Mr. Keating doesn't either. But he must figure that all this publicity about the killing professor is going to waste South of the Mason-Dixon line. It looks as though Mr. Keating decided to do a little glory shopping of his own. He now charges Dr. Bishop with murder decades later with evidence that had been forgotten, lost or overlooked. There really ought to be a statute of limitations for murder when the state brings an ancient claim based on evidence it had previously gathered but either lost or ignored.
It's hard to know who looks worse in the decision to prosecute Dr. Bishop for the murder of her brother in 1986. Is William Keating merely a weenie in heat, jumping in front of a camera to boost his profile? Or are the police in Braintree, Mass., really just a bunch of bumbling, incompetent idiots who cannot connect obvious dots?
Of course, it is possible both that Keating is weenie and the police are boobs. In that case, they deserve one another. But does Dr. Bishop really deserve to be prosecuted?