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Posts tagged as “Alexander Bishop case”

The death of Bill Bishop: Was it a heart attack?

This is the second in a series exploring theories into Bill Bishop’s death.

After developer Bill Bishop was apparently found unconscious with a dog leash around his neck and later died, investigators became suspicious of his teenage son Alexander and charged him with murder.

Alexander has suggested it was a tragic accident caused by the family dog, Winston. Yet Bishop’s ex-wife and family has posed a simpler explanation: Bill died of a heart attack.

But the heart attack theory doesn’t hold up very well. Four forensics experts who reviewed his autopsy report for the 9th Street Journal were doubtful that Bill died of a heart attack. Three said there was no evidence of one, and the fourth said it was unlikely. 

“There’s no evidence of a cardiac event. The defense is just trying to fish,” said Bill Smock, police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department and a staff member of the Training Institute for Strangulation Prevention in San Diego. 

Where is the case now?

It’s not clear how much Alexander’s attorney Allyn Sharp will rely on a possible cardiac event in her defense. With the case far from trial amid of a backlog of murder cases, she has a lot of time to prepare. 

Sharp did not respond to request for comment in time for publication. She has previously told the 9th Street Journal that she will not speak about the case outside the court record. 

In a February hearing, Sharp said Alexander didn’t kill Bill, never had any issues with discipline, and had no motive to kill his father. 

Alexander told first responders on April 18, 2018 he found Bill unresponsive in the theater of the family’s Hope Valley home. He said his father was in an armchair with Winston’s leash wrapped around his neck, with Winston still on the leash, according to court documents. Bill died three days later at Duke Hospital. 

The case was shaken up earlier this fall when Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. threw out swaths of key evidence that implied Alexander had plotted to kill Bill and reap the benefits of his $5.5 million estate, pending an appeal. 

“When you remove those material misstatements and omissions, it is simply a death that is tragic, but not suspicious,” Sharp said at a September hearing in her eventually successful bid to exclude evidence.

There has not been a trial date set in the case. Alexander, who was 16 at the time of his father’s death, is free on a $250,000 unsecured bond. 

Alexander suggests the dog did it; family blames heart attack

How will Sharp build her case to defend Alexander? There are clues in his statements to first responders and comments that family members have made to the media.

Before calling 911 that evening, Alexander called his mother, Sharon Bishop, five times. In the 911 call, Alexander said he thought that Bill was dead and that he took the leash off his neck. 

“I think my dog got his [leash] wrapped around his throat and his face is purple,” he said.

Bill Bishop with his dog Winston.

An emergency supervisor at the scene said that Alexander thought that “the dog just happened to freak out and get him wrapped up in it,” according to court documents. Bill died three days later. 

The “dog killed my dad” defense is weak, experts say. The 9th Street Journal spoke with four forensics experts who all agreed it was unlikely Winston could have killed Bill. The injuries described in the autopsy report were not consistent with a dog essentially strangling Bill with a leash, they said. 

“It looks like someone took the dog leash and then came up from behind him, wrapped it around one time and strangled him,” said Kendall Von Crowns, deputy chief medical examiner with the Travis County (Texas) Medical Examiner’s office.

Medical examiner says homicide;  family says heart attack

The state medical examiner determined Bill’s death was a homicide caused by strangulation with a “ligature,” or a cord-like object. 

This conclusion was based upon a mark on Bill’s neck that signaled strangulation, cartilage fractures in his neck, and hemorrhages. 

Bill also had an enlarged heart and an 80 percent blockage in his heart’s left main coronary artery and a second left coronary artery, the report found. The report added that Bill had a history of depression, a recent divorce, and prostate cancer, in addition to an injury to his right arm in 2012 that rendered it “largely functionless.”

The Bishop family hired a pathologist, Dr. Jonathan Privette, who studied the autopsy report and argued that the medical examiner should have ruled the cause of death “undetermined” instead of a homicide. 

Privette said that blockages higher than 75 percent can lead to “sudden heart ‘events’ and death.”

That supports the family’s previous statements. An attorney for Alexander and his brother in the estate matters told the Durham Herald-Sun last year that the family thinks a heart attack killed Bill. 

“His physicians told the family that Bill had suffered a heart attack and never told them otherwise,” Idol said. “We believe this was the actual cause of his death.”

And shortly after Bill’s death, Sharon Bishop told the Tampa Bay Times that Bill had suffered a heart attack. 

Experts: Unlikely Bill died from a heart attack, blockages insignificant

Experts agreed that the blockage was enough to cause cardiac events, but that didn’t mean the cause of death was likely a heart attack. 

Jeffrey Springer, a Louisville forensic pathologist, and Kendall Von Crowns, deputy chief medical examiner with the Travis County (Texas) medical examiner’s office, agreed that his coronary arteries were blocked enough to cause some sort of cardiac event. All four experts said Bill had heart disease. 

But the evidence in the autopsy didn’t indicate that a heart attack caused Bill’s death. 

“He’s got coronary artery disease, as probably everyone in (the future jury will have) coronary artery disease. (Yet) the blood is still flowing to the heart. That’s normal,” said Bill Smock, police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department who is on the staff of the Training Institute for Strangulation Prevention in San Diego. 

“There’s a lot of people walking around with 80, 90, or even close to 100 percent blockage of it. When it gets blocked, a heart attack is when blood doesn’t get to an area of the heart. At some point, if you live long enough, it’ll probably get completely blocked. But it has nothing to do with why he is dead. There’s no evidence that this is a cardiac event. Zero.”

Springer said that Bill could have had a heart attack during to the strangulation, but the cause of death still would have been strangulation. 

“When a man is found dead (in the basement chair) with a leash wrapped around his neck and has the autopsy findings Mr. Bishop had, he did not simply suffer a heart attack,” Springer said. 

“He still has ligature marks around his neck. Those wouldn’t be caused by a heart attack,” said Katherine Maloney, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office in New York. 

All four experts pointed to a lack of an “acute thrombus” or infarction in Bill’s arteries, meaning there was no blood clot blocking a vein. That is a tell-tale sign of a heart attack, they said. 

Evidence of heart attack can’t be seen unless the victim survives for more than 24 hours after suffering the attack, Crowns said. But Bill survived longer than that, assuming the cardiac event happened on the day Alexander said he found Bill unresponsive. 

Maloney suggested that the family may be using the term “heart attack” loosely to make it more understandable. She suggested they may be referring to a fatal cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat that could be a complication from his heart disease. 

But even in this case, it would be unlikely that killed him, Maloney said. In the case of fatal cardiac arrhythmia, people aren’t usually found sitting comfortably in a chair. In these cases, the victim’s heart stops beating suddenly, leading them to “hit the floor” wherever they are standing, she said. 

And the evidence of strangulation and where Alexander said he found Bill don’t match that theory. 

“If he’s sitting in the chair with a dog leash, how does the leash get up in the air and around his neck? The dog jumps up and wraps the leash around his neck?,” Maloney said. “The leash would have to defy gravity to get up around his neck.”

Maloney was also suspicious of the timing. Once a strangulation or arrhythmia victim loses oxygen to the brain, they have six minutes (10 maximum) before they die. 

With that narrow window, she said it was more likely that Alexander was there when it happened and then called 911. Otherwise, Bill wouldn’t have been able to survive for three days on the ventilator; he would have died at the scene. 

“So coincidentally, as either the dog was strangling him or he was having a heart attack, within 10 minutes of that happening, his son finds him? That’s pretty good timing,” Maloney said. “His spidey senses must have gone off.”

The death of Bill Bishop: Did the dog do it?

This is the first in a series exploring theories into Bill Bishop’s death.

On paper, Winston is just another yellow Labrador Retriever. He’s up-to-date on his rabies shots, good until 2021. 

He’s registered under his owner, Bill Bishop of Durham. But he’s not a typical dog. 

Winston has been thrust into the center of a Durham murder case.

Bill’s son, Alexander Bishop, 17, has been charged with killing his father. Alexander has raised the possibility that Winston did it. He told first responders to their Hope Valley home on April 18, 2018, that he found his father unconscious in an armchair with Winston’s leash around his father’s neck and the dog still attached, according to court records. Officers found Bill, 59, in the chair, unresponsive. He died a few days later.

Alexander was charged with murdering his father in February, 10 months after his father’s death. He is out on $250,000 unsecured bond. A trial date has not been set.

Alexander’s attorney Allyn Sharp still has many months to prepare her defense. But it appears from Alexander’s statements to first responders and Sharp’s comments in court that the dog could be a key part of her defense.

Could Winston, a yellow Lab estimated at 50 to 60 pounds, get his leash tangled around Bill’s neck and create sufficient force to kill him?

To explore this theory, The 9th Street Journal spoke with four forensic experts. They agreed that it’s unlikely that Winston could have killed Bill Bishop.

“The story about the dog sounds pretty far-fetched,” said Katherine Maloney, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office in New York. “What they should have done is to say it was hanging. That would have been more difficult to disprove. But the story with the dog is just sort of ridiculous.”

Winston: Good with children, loyal, trained

Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dog in America for a reason: they’re friendly, energetic, and social, according to the American Kennel Club. 

Unlike some more aggressive breeds, they are “companionable housemates who bond with the whole family,” the club says. It describes them as a “friendly, outgoing, and high-spirited companions who have more than enough affection to go around for a family looking for a medium-to-large dog.” 

Historically, they love to help their masters hunt and fish. Originally from Newfoundland, Labradors went duck hunting and fishing with their masters. One job was to plunge into frigid waters and snag fish that had been hauled in. Their coats were bred to keep ice from freezing onto their fur when they got out of the water. 

These days you don’t see them jumping off boats as much, but they’re still swimming. The Kennel Club describes them as very energetic — Labs need a lot of exercise, whether that’s in their second home of the water or chasing sticks (or their tails) on land. 

Even more than their athleticism, Labs are defined by gentility and smarts. 

“The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence and adaptability make him an ideal dog,” the club says in its breed standard. 

Neighbors and friends were reluctant to discuss Winston on the record, but all the evidence suggests he is a pretty typical Labrador: friendly, good with kids, respectful of Bill.

In photos, Winston looks docile and loyal beside Bill. Photos of him over the years show him friendly and calm. 

Winston went to a three-week-long obedience camp where he was “alpha trained” to become “beta” or subservient to the “alpha” master, Bill. 

That’s based on the theory of “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan: dogs need a strong, “alpha” leader of the pack in their master. Lead your dogs with “calm, assertive energy” and set clear rules, while allowing for a lot of exercise and affection “when the time is right.”  

Walking dogs is an important part of his philosophy in training dogs. 

“The whole experience is the leash represents calmness,” Millan said in 2013. “And happiness is also expressed through that calmness.”

The only characteristic where Winston seems to stray from a typical Lab is his small size. 

At an estimated 50 to 60 pounds, Winston weighs less than the average male yellow Labrador Retriever, which tend to weigh in at 65 to 80 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club. 

Winston now appears to be staying with Alexander and Sharon Bishop, according to estate filings. 

Here’s what Alexander Bishop claimed happened

The early narrative from police and the prosecutors seemed clear: the kid plotted to kill his dad

But the picture has gotten fuzzier since last month, when Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. tossed some of the most tantalizing evidence that seemed to indicate Alexander planned the killing to cash in on Bill’s $5.5 million estate. Hudson ruled that the lead investigator left out key details or was deliberately misleading when he sought search warrants. The judge tossed out evidence obtained from those warrants. 

 “When you remove those material misstatements and omissions, it is simply a death that is tragic, but not suspicious,” Alexander’s attorney Allyn Sharp said at a September hearing on her successful bid to dismiss much of the key evidence in the case.

Prosecutors have scoffed at a potential “dog killed my dad” argument. 

“The fact that he’s contending his dog strangled his father is where the suspicion is for this case,” Assistant District Attorney Beth Hopkins Thomas said in a September hearing

Sharp objected to this statement in the hearing, arguing it was a “mischaracterization” of what Alexander had said. She said Alexander never alleged that Winston strangled his father. Hudson overruled the objection. 

Sharp declined to comment for this story, saying she won’t comment on the case outside of the court record. 

Still, Alexander raised the dog as a possible killer when he called 911.

Here’s what unfolded on April 18, 2018, according to Hudson’s order and 911 records

Alexander called 911 to report that he had found his father unresponsive with Winston’s leash around his neck. 

“I think my dad is dead,” he said. “I think my dog got his [leash] wrapped around his throat and his face is purple.” 

Alexander said he took Winston’s leash off his father’s neck. 

He told a firefighter that the leash was attached to Winston and was wrapped around Bill’s neck, although he was unsure how many times. The EMS supervisor said at the scene that Alexander thought that “the dog just happened to freak out and get him wrapped up in it.”

Some of Alexander’s comments at the scene weren’t what many would have expected.  

After the EMS supervisor began a conversation with Alexander, he asked to speak in private with the supervisor. Alexander told the supervisor that he felt “bad that he doesn’t necessarily want [Bill] to live” but that he “didn’t do anything to harm him.”

Alexander also asked an officer on the scene how he should be feeling. 

“Honestly…I’m afraid of what happens if he comes back,” Alexander told the officer. “I’m afraid he’ll get mad at me for leaving the leash around the dog.” 

Bill was taken to Duke Hospital and died there on April 21, 2018, three days later.

Medical examiner says death was homicide

The state medical examiner’s office, which performed the autopsy, ruled the death was a homicide. 

The autopsy says Bill was strangled with a “ligature,” some kind of cord-like device. Due to the strangulation, he died from a lack of oxygen to the brain despite efforts to resuscitate him, the report says. 

The medical examiner bases this conclusion on hemorrhages, a ligature mark (a mark indicating strangulation with a cord-like object) on Bill’s neck, and fractures of the thyroid cartilage in his neck. 

Alexander’s defense sees things differently. 

Bishop’s family hired a pathologist, Dr. Jonathan Privette, who reviewed the autopsy findings and then argued in a 2018 report that the cause of death could not be determined. 

Bill’s body showed no self-defense injuries, which would have been expected if someone tried to kill him, Privette argued. 

Privette also said Bill had heart disease and that one side of his heart was 80 percent clogged, enough to cause “sudden heart ‘events’.” The family seems to believe that theory — Alexander’s mother, Sharon Bishop, told the Tampa Bay Times in May 2018 that Bill died of a heart attack. (We’ll explore that theory in a later article.)

As for the dog theory, Privette had “no opinion” on whether Winston could encircle his leash around Bill’s neck. 

“However, assuming that the events are possible, it is my opinion that a 60-pound dog would have the force to cause the described injuries,” he wrote

Experts say dog probably didn’t kill Bill

The Bishop case got a jolt this fall when Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. agreed with Sharp’s  motion to suppress a host of evidence. The judge said a Durham police investigator had been misleading about the facts of the case when he sought search warrants. So evidence regarding “suspicious” internet searches and “missing” gold that was not in fact missing will not be considered

But that ruling doesn’t appear to have much impact on the Winston theory, which hinges on questions about the dog and his leash. The 9th Street Journal interviewed four forensics experts who evaluated Bill’s autopsy report. They all agreed: it’s not likely that Winston could have killed Bill. 

To the experts, the evidence just doesn’t support the theory that Winston’s leash could have gotten wrapped around Bill’s neck and strangled him with enough force to kill him. The injuries weren’t consistent with such a strangling. 

“It looks like someone took the dog leash and then came up from behind him, wrapped it around one time and strangled him,” said Kendall Von Crowns, deputy chief medical examiner with the Travis County (Texas) Medical Examiner’s office. 

Jeffrey Springer, a Louisville forensic pathologist, and Bill Smock, police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department and on the staff of the Training Institute for Strangulation Prevention in San Diego, and Katherine Maloney, deputy chief medical examiner for the Erie County (New York) Medical Examiner’s Office, pointed to the same reason. 

They described a dense phrase in the autopsy — “fractured superior bilateral horns of thyroid cartilage” — as an important clue. Smock said it was suspicious that the cartilage was fractured without marks on the outside of the neck. 

I find it very difficult to believe that a 50 to 60 pound…dog was able to entangle a conscious, neurologically-intact adult man in a leash and then be able to pull on the leash with enough force for a long enough period of time — at least 10 seconds — to cause loss of consciousness and then continue to apply that pressure for another few minutes until near-fatal brain damage occurred,” Springer said. 

Smock, who has examined victims of hundreds of fatal and non-fatal strangulations over 30 years, agreed with that assessment. He has never seen a dog cause a death like Bill’s. 

Maloney and Kendall Von Crowns, deputy chief medical examiner with the Travis County (Texas) medical examiner’s office, agreed that it would be logistically difficult for Winston to work up the force to strangle Bill. 

“I don’t think the dog would have been like ‘Sweet, the leash is around the neck. Now I’m going to run in the opposite direction as fast as I can so I can strangle him,’” Maloney said. “I’m pretty sure the dog feeling resistance would have stopped pulling and just stood there.”

The dog theory “doesn’t make any sense,” Maloney said.

She zeroed in on a detail from the autopsy that said the mark on Bill’s neck was “serpiginous,” which indicates strangulation with a cord-like device, she said. It would be very difficult for the leash to get tangled around his neck, whether sitting or standing, she argued. 

She also said the bleeding noted in the autopsy report shows that Bill was alive when he was strangled, so it doesn’t make sense that Bill wouldn’t try and do something to stop the strangulation.

For Crowns, the location of the injuries essentially rule out Winston as a strangler. 

The autopsy report notes that the injuries were only on the front of Bill’s neck, Crowns said. If the leash were tightly wrapped around his neck, there would be “circumferential” marks all around his neck—front and back. 

“When you think about it, for the dog to have killed him the leash would have to have been complete about his neck to have been able to constrict and kill,” Crowns said. “If it was only partially about his neck, it would not have worked.”

The injuries in the report are more consistent with someone coming from behind Bill, putting the leash around the front of his neck and strangling him, Crowns said. 

Crowns has worked on 50 to 60 strangulation cases over about 20 years and has never come across a dog strangling someone. 

“Anything’s possible, but the probability is really low.”

Judge tosses ‘missing’ gold and other evidence from Bishop case

Some of the most tantalizing evidence in Durham’s most sensational homicide case – the “missing” gold, the “suspicious” internet searches and statements that were supposedly contradictory – has been struck by a Superior Court judge.

In a previously unreported filing in the case against Alexander Bishop, a Durham teenager accused of killing his father, Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. on Oct. 8 detailed which evidence will be tossed because the lead investigator’s statements to get in search warrants were false or were in “reckless disregard of the truth.” Hudson made an initial ruling in September but had not specified the evidence until this ruling.

In the new filing, Hudson sharply criticized lead investigator Tony Huelsman, even accusing him of “invent[ing] facts.”

“Investigator Huelsman repeatedly chose whatever statements he could cite to support his claims of suspicious circumstances to establish probable cause for the search warrants he sought while disregarding the evidence he examined and himself obtained which revealed the statements he cited were false or materially misleading,” Hudson wrote in the order detailing evidence to be suppressed. 

Prosecutors have moved to appeal this order, according to court documents.  

Bishop has been charged with murdering his father, Bill Bishop, after he says he found him April 18, 2018, with a dog leash around his neck and the family dog, Winston, still attached. 

Here’s some of the key evidence that will be tossed according to Hudson’s order:. 

“Missing gold” 

Hudson’s rebuke of Huelsman was strongest in his “attitude toward truth and falsity” surrounding the “missing gold.” 

In applications for search warrants, Huelsman claimed that a purchase order showed Alexander’s father had more than $450,000 in gold bars. He also alleged Alexander and William Bishop’s ex-wife, Sharon Bishop, had taken the gold. 

One problem: that purchase order showed William sold the gold in 2016, not bought it. 

“Investigator Huelsman saw the dates on the invoices and the purchase order, saw that William Bishop sold…the gold…in 2016…and chose to omit that information to make his false averments of ‘missing gold’,” Hudson wrote. 

Many Alexander Bishop statements, including ‘He felt relieved that his father was gone’

In “all of” of Huelsman’s applications to get search warrants, he claimed that Alexander Bishop wanted to talk with the EMS supervisor “alone and away from the police,” according to Hudson’s filing. 

He also claimed that Alexander had told the EMS supervisor that “he wasn’t going to be upset about his father dying.” 

Those statements are now gone. Why? They weren’t real, Hudson wrote. 

What Alexander really said, per the filing: He had merely wanted to “speak with him in private” and that “he feels bad that he doesn’t necessarily want him to live” and “explained that he will not be acting appropriately.”

Another key statement gone: Alexander’s apparently “contradictory” statements about where he found his father. 

Huelsman had claimed that Sharon Bishop had said that Alexander had found William on the floor when officers had found him in the chair. Reality check: Huelsman omitted that Alexander told first responders and an officer that he had discovered his father in a chair, not on the floor, Hudson wrote. 

“Huelsman omitted…Alexander’s statements that he had found his father in the chair….to suggest falsely that Alexander was hiding the truth about what happened to his father,” Hudson wrote. 

One other major statement (that made its way into the autopsy report): Huelsman had claimed that Alexander had said the dog leash was “wrapped around his father’s neck three times.” 

The catch: Huelsman had reviewed body cam footage in which Alexander said he didn’t “know how many times” the leash had been wrapped around his father’s neck, Hudson wrote. 

‘Suspicious’ internet searches

In search warrant applications for Sharon Bishop’s home and Alexander’s computer, Huelsman had described “suspicious” search history on Alexander’s cellphone after his father’s death. 

Those included searches for “financial information, how to calculate the value of an estate, the value of the price of gold per ounce, and how to transfer bank accounts after death.” In search warrants after these, Huelsman made the same allegations, but cut a sentence making clear that Alexander had made these searches after Bill died. 

Huelsman “intentionally deleted the sentence regarding the timing of the searches,” Hudson wrote. 

“Huelsman’s material omission was made knowingly in order to suggest falsely that Alexander had made these searches prior to William Bishop’s death, thereby providing evidence of a motive for premeditated murder,” Hudson wrote. 

Alexander had also searched for “3 Ways to Deal With the Death of a Loved One” and  “Key Financial Steps to Take After A Loved One Dies.” 

(Photo above: Judge Orlando F. Hudson at the hearing on the Bishop evidence in September. | Photo by Cameron Beach)

Some evidence in Bishop case to be tossed out

By Ben Leonard and Kristi Sturgill

In a stunning blow to prosecutors, a Durham judge ruled Monday that much of the evidence in the Alexander Bishop case should be tossed out because of reckless or untruthful work by the lead investigator.

After hearing three days of testimony from the investigator and other Durham police officers, Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. agreed to suppress evidence from search warrants that had provided much of the case against Bishop, a 17-year-old boy accused of killing his father William Bishop with a dog leash.

Allyn Sharp, Bishop’s attorney, questioned Huelsman for hours over two days of hearings. Photo by Ben Leonard | The 9th Street Journal

“The investigator either was untruthful or showed a reckless disregard for the truth,” Hudson said. “As a result of that, the court has to act.”

Monday was a long day for Tony Huelsman, the lead investigator.

Accused of using false information to get search warrants, he often stuttered when trying to explain the decisions he made. Allyn Sharp, Bishop’s attorney, grilled him for hours, asking pointed questions with a smile. 

It’s not clear how much evidence will be left in the wake of Hudson’s ruling. The defense will now submit a filing to argue what evidence should remain that wasn’t obtained from improper search warrants. 

In Sharp’s closing statement, she argued that once the tainted evidence is removed from the case, a few simple facts remain: William Bishop was found unresponsive in a chair, and that Alexander Bishop said he found him with the leash wrapped around his neck. 

Another piece of evidence that will be left, she argued: Alexander Bishop told an EMS supervisor that his father had been emotionally abusive, had just gotten divorced and was having issues with his new girlfriend. 

The case isn’t complicated, Sharp said.When you remove those material misstatements and omissions, it is simply a death that is tragic, but not suspicious,” she said.

Bishop was charged with killing his father by wrapping a dog leash around his neck in April 2018. Internet search records obtained from his phone indicate he looked up how to manage the financial assets of a dead family member.

As she did in court last week, Sharp grilled Huelsman over a mistake he admitted in the search warrant process. Huelsman had filed search warrants based on “missing” gold bars, which suggested that Bishop could have killed his father in an attempt to claim his inheritance.

The problem? Much of the gold was not in fact missing. 

A purchase order showed that William Bishop had sold the $462,773 of gold. Huelsman, who testified that dates are important to him, had failed to notice the sale was in August 2016, almost two years before William Bishop died.

“You didn’t find the date relevant at the time?” Sharp said. 

“That’s correct,” Huelsman responded.

In her closing remarks, Sharp criticized Huelsman’s error.

“It’s unreasonable and untrue that Investigator Huelsman did not know exactly what it was when he saw it,” she said.

Huelsman said he didn’t intentionally mislead magistrates or judges in his search warrants. 

In the search warrant, Huelsman had considered Alexander Bishop’s internet history “suspicious.” But there was a key detail that Huelsman had erased in the search warrant: the date of those searches.

If they had come before his father’s death, they could have pointed to premeditation. But Sharp pointed out that Bishop searched gold conversion on April 29, 2018, eight days after his father had died. 

“What’s suspicious about searching for it eight days after he died?” Sharp asked. 

“What makes it suspicious is everything that happened before this,” Huelsman responded. 

Beth Hopkins Thomas, the assistant district attorney, said in rebuttal that there were other reasons to be suspicious of Alexander Bishop. 

“The fact that he’s contending his dog strangled his father is where the suspicion is for this case, your honor,” Hopkins Thomas said. 

She also argued that the internet searches weren’t “totally reasonable” given the circumstances and called the defense’s motions to suppress evidence “antics over semantics.” 

Sharp also challenged the credibility of William Bishop’s girlfriend Julie Seel. Sharp said  Huelsman overlooked potential issues with the information she provided.

That included a tip about a small hypodermic needle and a clear glass bottle found in Alexander Bishop’s bedroom. Investigators seized them when Seel made them “relevant,” telling Huelsman that Alexander Bishop was an advanced chemistry student and she encouraged Huelsman to ask Bishop’s teachers about any missing chemicals. They turned out to be from a sand art Christmas gift Seel had given him. 

Sharp also suggested Seel lied about having served in the Army Special Forces, saying the first woman to make it through the training did so in 2018. Seel told the 9th Street Journal that she served in the 12th Special Forces group from 1990 to 1994. 

Sharp also asked Huelsman about a Rolex that Seel wore. She claimed William Bishop gave her, rather than having taken it from him.

“I don’t believe she took the watch to gain anything,” Huelsman said. “I believe she was wearing the watch to help her through a hard time.”

Sharp also asked Huelsman if he was aware of notes from William Bishop’s final therapy session saying that he believed “the relationship was ending or over.” Huelsman said he had received the notes but he didn’t remember that detail. 

Alexander Bishop had a blank expression throughout most the hearing, staring forward and yawning frequently. 

But after about three hours of cross-examination of Huelsman, he started crying while Sharp was asking questions about Seel and the syringe. Sharp put her arm around him and continued asking questions. 

Monday’s ruling was a surprise because the previous ruling from Hudson, made last Thursday, favored the prosecutors. Hudson rejected Sharp’s argument that statements Alexander Bishop made at the scene couldn’t be used because officers didn’t read him his Miranda rights. 

On Monday, Hudson also ruled on two other motions presented by the defense, one requesting return of electronic devices owned by Alexander Bishop and his mother Sharon Bishop and another requesting all relevant documents for discovery. 

Hudson also set deadlines for documents to be turned over to Bishop’s attorneys and for police to return devices they had gotten from Bishop and his mother because of search warrants.

In photo above, Allyn Sharp, Bishop’s attorney, questioned Huelsman for hours over two days of hearings. Photo by Ben Leonard | The 9th Street Journal

At Bishop hearing, lawyers spar over search warrants

By Ben Leonard, Erin Williams and Swathi Ramprasad 

The second day of a hearing in the case of Alexander Bishop, a 17-year-old boy accused of killing his father with a dog leash, was a battle over search warrants. 

Prosecutors and Bishop’s attorney sparred over the warrants and the evidence they provided, accusing each other of “fishing expeditions.”

Allyn Sharp, Bishop’s attorney, said some evidence should be suppressed because of misconduct by the lead investigator, Tony Huelsman. 

But prosecutor Beth Hopkins Thomas said there was no proof Huelsman was intentionally misleading when he sought the warrants. 

“The claims here are incredibly opaque and getting into semantics instead of getting into substantive material issues,” Hopkins Thomas said of Sharp’s arguments. 

Late in the day, Sharp noted that Huelsman had executed about 22 search warrants and asked him to explain what criminal evidence he’d uncovered.

Hopkins Thomas was quick to object.

“Your honor, it’s a fishing expedition,” Hopkins Thomas said. “She is trying to get our lead investigator to lay out his entire testimony before the trial.”

As in the first day of the hearing, Sharp played videos from April 18, 2018, when officers were called to the Bishop home in exclusive Hope Valley. In one video, Alexander’s mother Sharon recounts calls with her son, noting that the first one had connection problems.  Sharp raised doubts about the calls because of the connectivity problems, which Huelsman failed to mention in his search warrant. “Isn’t it true that you didn’t include anything about that because you were afraid that would discredit the statement that you were claiming Alexander made to his mother?” Sharpe asked.

“No,” Huelsman responded.

Sharp tried to poke holes in Huelsman’s account, suggesting that he withheld details to bolster his case. She said he conveniently ignored discrepancies about the location of the leash and how it was wrapped around William Bishop’s body. 

She emphasized there were conflicting statements about the location of the leash on William Bishop’s arms. In Huelsman’s search warrant application, he included a statement from an anonymous friend of William Bishop who said Bishop had severe nerve damage and reduced mobility in his right arm. But she said Huelsman did not include body camera footage of Alexander telling officers the same detail, which would have bolstered his explanation that the dog caused the strangulation.

Sharp repeatedly challenged Huelsman’s contention that marks on William Bishop’s neck indicated he’d been strangled by Alexander. She said evidence suggested it was possible the marks were caused by the dog pulling the leash.

But Huelsman said, “I’m not sure a dog on a leash could do that damage.”

The search warrants and the evidence used to justify them were the focus of Thursday’s hearing.

One of Huelsman’s warrants cited “suspicious” web history including searches for “how to calculate the value of an estate, the value of the price of gold per ounce, and how to transfer bank accounts after death,” Sharp said in the motion. She said Huelsman purposely deleted a sentence that showed these searches were made after William Bishop, his father, died. 

On the stand, Huelsman said he didn’t have a particular reason for deleting the sentence, saying it was common to make edits. Later in questioning, he said he probably got rid of one of the sentences because they “kind of say the same thing.”

“Investigator Huelsman has been picking and choosing what supports his suspicions while leaving out the investigative work he has done that has proven those things to be false,” Sharp said earlier.  

Sharp called it “a fishing expedition. These are general warrants.” 

Sitting beside Hopkins Thomas, Michael Wallace, head of the Homicide and Violent Crimes team for the Durham County District Attorney’s Office, argued Sharp was really the one with the rod and reel in trying to get the evidence dismissed. Her arguments were really the ones that were false, misleading and disregarding the truth, Wallace said. 

“What we’re having right now is a fishing expedition,” Wallace said. 

The lawyers also began discussing gold bars that had been listed as “missing” to justify search warrants. After obtaining Alexander Bishop’s cell phone search history that showed him apparently searching for the price of gold, Huelsman said investigators became interested in the location of the bars. 

But in fact William Bishop had sold the gold to a Florida coin dealer and police knew or should have known. Sharp argued in the motion that using the purchase order as justification for the search warrant was “intentionally false and/or reckless to the truth.” 

On the stand, Huelsman said later in his investigation he found that there are about 50 separate ounces of gold still unaccounted for. 

The sparring turned trivial at times.

Hopkins Thomas got tripped up on a name and laughed during Huelsman’s testimony. Sharp objected. 

“I’m going to ask that Ms. Thomas try to control the laughter,” Sharp said.  

Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. agreed, pausing and softly telling her to control her laughter. 

“I was not aware that I laughed,” Hopkins Thomas said. 

The hearing came a day after a motion to suppress other evidence was dismissed. Hudson still needs to address other motions, one requesting electronic devices be returned to Bishop and one requesting the full case file. The hearing will resume on Monday.

In photo above, Bishop’s attorney, Allyn Sharp, seen with her laptop, sparred with prosecutor Beth Hopkins Thomas, center, when lead investigator Tony Huelsman was on the witness stand. Photo by Bill Adair | The 9th Street Journal

Clarification: An earlier version of this article contained a description of a video police interview with Sharon Bishop. The meaning of her comments in that video is unclear, so we have removed that passage.

In Courtroom 7D: Tears, dramatic videos and questions about a homicide investigation

Correction: This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly said that Bishop said in his 911 call that he found his father on the floor.

This story was reported and written by Niharika Vattikonda and Erin Williams

Alexander Bishop wept as the video played on the big screen in Courtroom 7D. It showed police arriving at his Durham home and working feverishly to save the life of William Bishop, his father.

The dramatic video, recorded by body cameras worn by Durham police officers, was the focus of a hearing Wednesday morning. It showed William Bishop unconscious on the floor as police officers urgently gave him CPR.

As the video played in court, Alexander Bishop removed his glasses and buried his face in his hands, sobbing.

Allyn Sharp — an attorney for Bishop, a 17-year-old boy accused of killing his father — questioned officers about whether they had followed proper procedures. Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr. held the hearing to consider Sharp’s motions that contend Bishop was the victim of shoddy police work.

One of the motions asked the court to sanction prosecutors for failing to provide Bishop’s attorneys with all the search warrants and evidence related to the case. Another asked that investigators return Bishop’s and his mother’s electronic devices that were seized during a search.

The other two motions sought to dismiss evidence found as a result of search warrants and statements Bishop made when he was first questioned. 

Alexander Bishop at a hearing on Sept. 11, 2019 | Photo by Cameron Beach, The 9th Street Journal

Those statements were the focus of much of the testimony Wednesday. Sharp questioned whether the statements Bishop made at the scene were lawfully obtained. But at the end of the day, Hudson denied her motion to suppress the evidence from that questioning. The hearing will continue Thursday on the other motions.

Wednesday’s testimony from police provided new details about the investigation and the early suspicions that officers had when they arrived at the Bishop home on April 18, 2018. 

When Officer Austin Farley asked Bishop about his relationship with his father, Bishop described him as emotionally abusive. “He went on to state that he wasn’t too concerned if his father didn’t come back,” Farley testified. “He also stated that he would be afraid of what his father did if he did survive.” 

Officer Samuel Kimball overheard Bishop’s remarks to first responders, and he testified that he was struck by the way Bishop talked about his father. 

“I noticed that he was consistently referring to his father in the past tense,” Kimball said. 

At that point, William Bishop still had a pulse and would not be pronounced dead until three days later in a hospital. 

“Usually grieving relatives or someone in this situation is still referring to their family member in the present tense,” said Kimball.

In her motion, Sharp argued that police officers unlawfully interrogated the teenager in the house without advising him of his Miranda rights. Officer Matthew Garvin testified that they were simply securing the scene. 

Sharp responded that for the purpose of Miranda rights, the only standard that applies is whether a reasonable person — in this case, a reasonable 16-year-old — would think that they were being held in custody. If that was the case for Bishop, then questioning him without an attorney or a parent present violated due process.

As a part of her cross-examination, Sharp played another clip from a body-cam video from one of the officers. “Keep an eye on the son. Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere,” Kimball says on the recording.

But the officers also testified that they were not ready to read him his Miranda rights.

“Did you at any point advise Alexander of his rights?” Sharp asked Officer Matthew Garvin, another police officer who responded to the call.

“I did not,” Garvin said. Two other officers on the stand also testified that Bishop was not read his Miranda rights.

However, Beth Hopkins Thomas, the assistant district attorney, argued that the “free to leave standard” — interpreted as whether the defendant thinks they’re in custody — does not apply under North Carolina law, which demands a “totality of the circumstances” analysis. 

She said Bishop was allowed freedom of movement, the officers themselves did not make explicit statements that he was in custody, and no restraint or intimidation was used to keep the defendant in the house. 

In his 911 call, Alexander Bishop said repeatedly that he thought his father was dead and suggested twice that the family’s dog may have strangled him by twisting a leash around his father’s neck. Police began to focus on Bishop as a suspect, and a grand jury indicted him in February. 

In July, Bishop’s attorneys filed motions to throw out most of the evidence, including statements made by the defendant. The motions also claimed that the lead homicide investigator omitted key facts to obtain search warrants.

At the hearing, officers testified about their growing suspicions while they were at the Bishop home.

After Kimball turned off his body cam, he met with other officers to discuss what they had found. He sent one of them to find Bishop, “just to monitor his movements out of caution,” Kimball said.

Hopkins Thomas, the assistant district attorney, asked Kimball what he thought at that point.

“I said that either it was a suicide or the kid did it.”