More than five months after prosecutors dropped murder charges against Durham teenager Alexander Bishop for killing his father Bill Bishop, the North Carolina Medical Examiner has reclassified the cause of death from homicide to “undetermined.”
The state medical examiner made significant changes to the revised report, which was signed Friday, removing several key facts and saying that “no information was available” about the dog leash at the center of the homicide case.
Previously, the report said that Alexander found Bill unresponsive with the leash wrapped around Bill’s neck three times, with the leash handle on his arm and the family dog, Winston, still attached. Now it merely says Bill was found unresponsive, “possibly with a dog leash on this neck.”
It is unclear what Friday’s surprising development means for the future of the case. Prosecutors dropped charges in February, citing insufficient evidence. Bill Bishop’s girlfriend Julie Seel says the Durham District Attorney’s Office made the wrong decision in dropping those charges and has called for a new homicide investigation in a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein.
In February, Sarah Willets, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, told the 9th Street Journal that charges could be refiled against Alexander. At the time, she declined to comment when asked if prosecutors would continue to pursue charges against him.
The 9th Street Journal has reached out to Willets and Alexander’s attorney, Allyn Sharp, for comment. Neither responded in time for publication.
Some of the other changes to the autopsy report included removing discussion of evidence that was tossed from the case in October by Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. He excluded the evidence because he found the lead investigator’s statements to get search warrants were false or were in “reckless disregard of the truth.”
That included the claim about the leash being wrapped around Bill’s neck three times, as well as a claim that Alexander found Bill on the floor, when Alexander had actually told investigators he found him in a chair.
In the revised report, the core medical facts remain the same.
The autopsy still says Bill was strangled with a “ligature,” some kind of cord-like device. Because of the strangulation, he died from a lack of oxygen to the brain, the report says. The manner of death has been switched to “undetermined” from “homicide” after the circumstances surrounding Bill’s death became “unclear.”
Four forensics experts previously told the 9th Street Journal these same medical facts indicated it was highly unlikely that Winston could have killed Bill.
The autopsy still says Bill had an enlarged heart and an 80 percent blockage in his heart’s left main coronary artery and a second left coronary artery. Bill’s ex-wife and family have argued that Bill died of a heart attack.
These same experts also shot down that explanation, saying such a blockage could cause a cardiac event, but that it wasn’t likely he died of a heart attack.
Staff writer Ben Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org