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A killing, a life sentence and my change of heart
Jeanne Bishop, left, and her sister Nancy visit Scotland in 1990, the year before Nancy's murder.
February 2nd, 2013
10:00 PM ET

A killing, a life sentence and my change of heart

Editor's note: Jeanne Bishop is the sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who, along with her husband and their unborn child, was shot to death by a juvenile. Since the murder of her family members, Jeanne Bishop has been an advocate for gun violence prevention, forgiveness and abolition of the death penalty. She is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago.

By Jeanne Bishop, Special to CNN

(CNN) - I have been paying close attention to the changes coming since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down any mandatory life sentences for juveniles who kill.  A teenager killed my sister.

He killed her dream, too. She wanted to be a mom.

My sister Nancy married young.  She was overjoyed when she got pregnant at age 25.

That dream died three months later, when she and her husband walked through the front door of their home and found their killer waiting for them.

He was a 16-year-old with a history of violence.  He wanted to see what it was like to kill someone. He found out when he broke in and shot Nancy, Richard and their unborn baby and left them to die on a cold basement floor.

When the killer was arrested, details emerged that turned my stomach. He had joked about murdering my family members, even attended their funeral.

When he was convicted of the murders, he was remorseless. When he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, I was glad.

After sentencing, my mother turned to me in the courtroom and said, “We’ll never see him again.” I was glad of that, too.  I wanted to wipe him off my hands like dirt.

I never spoke his name. I wanted his name to die and Nancy’s to live.

When a coalition of people (including law professors such as Bernardine Dohrn and Randolph Stone whose advocacy on behalf of children I have always admired) launched efforts to abolish juvenile life sentences, I was appalled. The last thing I wanted was to attend parole hearings year after year, to beg bureaucrats not to release the person who had slaughtered my loved ones.

So I publicly fought any change in the sentence.  I told myself that fight was not just for my family, but for other family members of loved ones murdered by juveniles who would be affected.  I was like Saul early in the Book of Acts, the righteous one with a zeal for justice, before he was struck down and humbled and given a new name: Paul.

Then, I repented.

My road to Damascus moment didn’t come in a blinding light or a voice from heaven. The voice that changed my heart was that of a Mississippi-born, Vietnam veteran, Yale-educated  Southern Baptist pastor and academic named Randall O’Brien.

O’Brien told me something true - that Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, equally beloved and equally fallen. O’Brien reminded me of Jesus’ example on the cross of what to do with those who have harmed us: pray for them.

I had never prayed for the person who killed my loved ones; I had never even uttered his name.

I say it now: David Biro. I began praying for him in the only place I could: the garden where Nancy and Richard and their baby are buried. I dropped to my knees and asked God for something I never could have imagined, that Nancy’s killer get well enough to get out someday.

I don’t know that he will; he is not there yet.  But I do know that no one, including him, is beyond the forgiveness and redemption and purpose of God.

My two young sons taught me that. We were talking about loving your neighbor as yourself.  Stephen asked, “What about the person who killed Aunt Nancy?”

Brendan replied, “We can’t love what he did. But we have to love him, because God made him for a purpose.”

Brendan is right. God made each of the juveniles serving life sentences for a purpose.  I can no longer support a sentence that says never.

Repenting privately would be cowardice, since my past support for locking up some juveniles forever has been so public.  So when lawmakers in my state of Illinois consider bills next month that would abolish juvenile life sentences, I will be there to speak in favor of the mercy of a second chance.

Dr. Marcus Borg, a biblical and Jesus scholar, notes that the roots of the Greek word for “repentance” mean “to go beyond the mind that you have.”

My mind is changed; my heart is remade, and a new task lies ahead.

- kramsaycnn

Filed under: Belief • Guns • Violence

soundoff (1,981 Responses)
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    February 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Elaine M. rondeau

    I am outraged and angered by Ms. Bishops so called salvation

    February 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Elaine M. rondeau –

      Why?

      February 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Elaine M. rondeau –

      I see you've explained your position in a response to Coyoteliberty.

      February 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I read your post below, Elaine. How will Mrs. Bishop's views affect you in any way at all?

      February 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • helloirene

      Lets hope he doesnt get out ,and come gunning for you .

      February 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
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    February 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  5. coyoteliberty@gmail.com

    I, too, had a sister that was murdered. Like Jeanne Bishop, I know who murdered her. Unlike jeanne Bishop, I didn't have the satisfaction of seeing justice done. The corrupt cops who murdered her for refusing to sell drugs for them beat her almost to death and dumped her body 800 feet from an emergency room door, towards which she was found crawling, leaving a trail of blood behind her. The cops had their actions covered up by an equally corrupt State Attorney General and were allowed to retire with their pensions, honor and citations intact. Jeanne has the luxury of being able to forgive, knowing full well that no bureaucrat is ever really likely to let this mad dog out again. She may be okay with letting him out, healed by the grace and power or a tribal god, but most of the rest of us don't want to risk that someday he – or someone inspired by him – will be waiting for us or our loved ones when we come home. It's easy to be forgiving when you've seen justice done. Harder to come by that gracefulness when you never will.

    February 7, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Joanne

      My heart aches for you. You make a profound observation that it is easier to forgive when you know justice has been done and the perpetrator is unlikely to get out. I wish there was some way you could see justice done. Maybe to keep writing and sharing your story? Maybe 60 minutes or 2020 could do a story. I know I sounds naive but your sisters death and your paragraph touched me deeply and I had to let you know that someone cares about the rot and corruption that lead to your sisters death.

      February 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • O

      If it's that serious you might consider filing with a state agency to check out the police officers for corruption and failure to serve.

      February 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Elaine M. rondeau

      Dear Coyoteliberty,
      I appreciate your ability to see through the pretense of Ms. Bishop, who seems to be making a national declaration of her "forgiveness" for the murderer of her sister, her sister's unborn child, and her sister s husband. How cold an d heartless this Ms. Bishop is to ignore the consequences of the hundreds of thousands of cold blooded murderers that she seems to want us to pray for. I am a survivor of two victims of homicide, my best friend in 1982 and my daughter in 1994. My website is http://www.rorpf.org. I am so sorry for your your loss. How Ms. Bshop must disdain her living sister a d her Mother to pray that this cold blooded killer will be "saved" by her divine intervention in prayers to God and enjoy freedom again, perhaps then having a reversal of his salvation and murder again! How Ms Bishop must disdain also all of the hundreds of thousands do survivors of victims of crime who have sought Justice in the case of their loved ones murderers! We hope and pray for her to realize the error of her ways.

      February 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.