Amy Bishop pleads guilty to capital murder, attempted murder

Amy Bishop pleads guilty to murder and attempted murder in Madison County.
Amy Bishop pleads guilty to murder and attempted murder in Madison County.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Amy Bishop, the former professor accused of killing three people and wounding three others in the 2010 University of Alabama at Huntsville shooting, has pleaded guilty to murder.

Bishop pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Bishop was stone-faced as she entered Judge Alan Mann's Madison County courtroom Tuesday afternoon. She agreed to a plea deal with the district attorney's office, but because of a gag order, details of the agreement have not been released.

Legal experts said, hypothetically, the only way to get Bishop to plead guilty to capital murder was to take the death penalty off the table and give her life in prison without parole.

Judge Mann took several minutes to make sure Bishop fully understood what she was agreeing to. She had previously entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental defect. During Tuesday's hearing, Bishop's defense team told the court she was in contact with a psychologist as late as Sunday.

Bishop will go to court on September 24th to plea before a jury. The gag order in the case will remain in place at least until that time.

Bishop only spoke yes or no when asked questions by the judge. Prosecutors said Bishop's plea confirmed the facts of the case - that she stood up in a faculty meeting with a 9mm pistol, shot and killed three biology professors and wounded three others. She left the scene and was arrested a short time later.

Gopi Podilla, Maria Ragland Davis, and Adriel Johnson were killed in the shooting. Stephanie MOnticciolo, Dr. Joseph Leahy and Dr. Luis Cruz-Vera were wounded.

Bishop of Huntsville also is charged with killing her brother in Massachusetts in 1986. The shooting of 18-year-old Seth Bishop had been ruled an accident after Amy Bishop told police she shot him in the family's Braintree home as she was trying to unload her father's gun.

But the Alabama slayings led to a new investigation and charges.

In the university shooting, police and people who knew Bishop have described her as being angry over the school's refusal to grant her tenure, a decision that effectively would have ended her employment in the biology department at UAH.

Debra Moriarity was in the faculty meeting at the time of the shooting and is now biology chairman at the school. Prosecutors who met with potential witnesses last Friday said there was a possibility of a plea agreement before the trial began on Sept. 24, she said.

"So I'm not totally surprised by it, but I am surprised it happened this soon," she said.

After Bishop was indicted, prosecutors said Braintree police in 1986 failed to share important evidence, including the fact that Bishop, after she shot her brother in the chest, tried to commandeer a getaway car at gunpoint at a local car dealership, then refused to drop her gun until police officers ordered her to do so repeatedly. Those events were described in Braintree police reports but not in a report written by a state police detective assigned to the district attorney's office.

Moriarity said she was relieved that victims wouldn't have to sit through a trial to see whether jurors convict Bishop.

"I'm glad it's a recognition of the crimes she committed and not trying to get out of something through claiming a mental defect," she said.

Personally, Moriarity said she was relieved that the case is nearly over.

"I had a horrible dream about the trial last night," said Moriarity. Bishop pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger but it failed to fire.

Moriarity said Leahy, who was shot in the head, returned to teaching a full load of classes and conducting research this fall at the school. The only lingering effects he suffers are reduced eyesight, she said.

"Mentally he is on top of things," she said. "It's an absolute miracle. He's a miracle."

Leahy recently spoke at the Diamond Jubilee dinner for St. Joseph Catholic Church where he recalled the shooting.

"The scene in the conference room was a scene of carnage. My wonderful boss Dr. Gopi Podilla, Adriel Johnson and Maria Davis lay dead on the floor." said Leahy.

Leahy talked about how life is getting back to normal for his family. He's teaching again at UAHuntsville and he said he'll never forget that day when Anderson opened fire at the faculty meeting.

"Well, I really try not to think about her. I mean she perpetrated a horrible crime and you know, we have a wonderful court system and I have no doubt that she'll receive a just penalty," said Leahy.

Copyright 2012 WAFF. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this story.