Amy Bishop Is Sentenced to Life in Prison, Bringing Legal Case to an End

September 24, 2012

After an abbreviated trial on Monday, a jury returned a guilty verdict for Amy Bishop, a former biology professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The jury deliberated for just 20 minutes.

Ms. Bishop, who was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a departmental meeting just over two and a half years ago, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She had pleaded guilty this month to one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder, but state law still required the condensed trial because it was a capital-murder case.

Ms. Bishop, who wore a red prison jumpsuit with the words "Madison County Jail" emblazoned in white on the back, sat expressionless for much of the proceedings, at the Madison County Courthouse here, and did not speak to the court.

Roy Miller, a lawyer for Ms. Bishop, told the court that his client had "constantly expressed great remorse." She had wanted to write letters to the victims and their families, Mr. Miller said, but her lawyers had advised her against that.

"She is shattered beyond belief," Mr. Miller said, shortly before Judge Alan Mann, delivered the sentence.

During testimony on Monday, both Charlie Gray, the chief police investigator in the case, and Timothy R. Gann, assistant district attorney of Madison County, painted a picture of Ms. Bishop as a woman who was upset after being denied tenure. Mr. Gray said he had conducted searches at her home and office to come up with a motive for the killings. "The motive would have been the issue of tenure," the investigator said. "She was denied."

Mr. Gann said Ms. Bishop came into the departmental meeting that day in February 2010 "with an ax to grind."

"The university had decided she didn't measure up," he added. "Some people in that room had decided she didn't measure up."

Debra M. Moriarity, a professor who was in the conference room during the shootings, also testified on Monday. She described Ms. Bishop as someone who was excitable, agitated, and depressed after being denied tenure, in April 2009.

Ms. Moriarity, who is now chair of the biology department at Huntsville, said that after the tenure denial, Ms. Bishop told her that she felt her life was over and that she wanted to kill herself. Ms. Bishop had tried to get Ms. Moriarity and other professors in the department who had voted against her case for tenure to change their votes, Ms. Moriarity said, even after Ms. Bishop had exhausted the appeals process.

'A Very, Very Difficult Time'

In the courtroom, Ms. Bishop sat at a table directly across the room from Ms. Moriarity; from Joseph G. Leahy, an associate professor of microbiology at Huntsville who was shot in the head and still teaches at the university; and from family members of victims.

At one point during the trial, the district attorney showed photographs of the crime scene in the campus conference room, and Ms. Bishop put her head down on the table. The photos showed the three professors who died, two lying wounded on the floor and one slumped dead in a chair.

After the trial, Robert Tuten, a lawyer for Ms. Bishop, said Ms. Bishop had asked him if she could put her head on the table because she felt sick.

After the sentencing, Mr. Tuten said he did not believe Ms. Bishop's tenure denial was the only reason she had shot her colleagues. "That precipitated it," he said, "but I'm not convinced that was the sole reason."

He said Ms. Bishop, who has been examined by psychologists, "was really, really hoping the diagnostic testing would have shown brain damage or a brain defect as a reason for why this happened." Although that was not the case, said Mr. Tuten, he said doctors treating her in prison believe she suffers from "deeply rooted psychological issues."

In an interview with reporters, Ms. Moriarity said the sentence had brought closure "for the process and personally" for her.

"I was glad to hear there was remorse on her part," Ms. Moriarity added. As for the biology department, she said, "It has been a very, very difficult time, and we're trying to rebuild."