Guilty Pleas Relieve Amy Bishop's Former Colleagues at Alabama-Huntsville

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Amy Bishop, a former biology professor at the U. of Alabama at Huntsville, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for shooting three colleagues to death in February 2010 and wounding three others.
September 11, 2012

For former faculty colleagues of Amy Bishop, the news that she had pleaded guilty to capital murder on Tuesday was a welcome development. To some it brought relief, and to others, comfort. With the legal case nearing an end, they held out hope that the pleas would help them move on more easily.

Ms. Bishop, who was a professor of biology at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, is accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a departmental meeting just over two and a half years ago. She had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors were seeking the death penalty in the case.

But in Huntsville on Tuesday, Ms. Bishop entered guilty pleas to one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in the February 2010 shootings. She is now expected to receive a sentence of life in prison without parole.

"We were all hoping for her to plead guilty so we didn't have to endure a long trial," said Joseph G. Leahy, an associate professor of microbiology at Huntsville who was shot in the head. The bullet shattered his jaw and severed an optic nerve, leaving him blind in his right eye.

This fall, for the first time since the shootings, he is back to teaching full time.

Still, he said on Tuesday, the case isn't closed. A hearing, to be followed by an official sentencing, is scheduled for September 24. Once that is complete, Mr. Leahy said, "we will all breathe a sigh of relief."

His department, he added, is still dealing with the fallout from the murders. "It's always in the back of everybody's mind."

'A Huge Loss'

The professors who were killed included the department chairman, Gopi K. Podila, a scholar who was active in international efforts to improve plants through biotechnologies. The others were Maria Ragland Davis, who specialized in plant pathology and biotechnology applications, and Adriel D. Johnson Sr., who worked in the areas of cell biology and nutritional physiology.

"I still miss the people that she killed," said Lynn Boyd, who worked at Huntsville for 14 years and was in the room when the shootings occurred. "They were really awesome people and faculty members. It was such a huge loss."

Ms. Boyd moved this summer from Huntsville to Middle Tennessee State University, where she is chairman of the biology department. Ms. Bishop's guilty pleas are a comfort, Ms. Boyd said on Tuesday.

"I'm certainly happy that she is going to be held accountable," Ms. Boyd said. "The stress of wondering whether she was going to get away with it is now gone."

For her the pleas do bring closure. "That's the end for me," Ms. Boyd said. "There was this concern that maybe she would get away with it; she was a sneaky, deceitful person."

But the legal resolution won't change some things. "There's this emotional pain," she said, "among those of us who were left."

Debra M. Moriarity, chair of the biology department at Huntsville, said the district attorney made it clear last week that a guilty plea from Ms. Bishop was a possibility, but the timing was a surprise. "I wasn't expecting it this soon," Ms. Moriarity said on Tuesday.

This outcome, she said, was preferable. Now, Ms. Moriarity said, Ms. Bishop will not be able to be found not guilty, and no one, including Ms. Bishop's four children, will have to endure a lengthy trial.

"I'm glad about it, not just for myself and the other people who were directly involved, but for others who were indirectly involved, like the students and the university," Ms. Moriarity said. "If it had gone to trial, there would be all the publicity, all that dragging up of old memories. And this way we can just quickly get all of this behind us."

Sara Hebel contributed to this article.