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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)
  1. Mimi

    What about acction = concecuense
    Does your God forgive killer and condem gay people?

    February 3, 2013 at 7:25 am |
    • cleo

      No, the Lord forgives all those who repent. Don't be fooled about what you hear about God in the media. It is not for us to say who will be condemned, His mercies are endless.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • moonridr

      What about learning how to SPELL?!! In case you didn't know, your blatant ignorance often affects whether or not your opinion will be ignored or listened to. Try dictionary.com!!

      February 3, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Oh Well

      The OT was mainly for the Jews. The Anti-gay thing was part of their rules and never part of the original 10. Jesus came and then we have the NT. Jesus NEVER EVER said a thing about gays or even abortion. If it was that important, he would have made it very clear. In fact he was all inclusive, love God and treat others well. Not unless they are this that and the other. This is the basic fault with the evangelicals, christians, catholics, GOP, etc. They say Jesus Jesus and ignore his 2 commandments. No Mimi, the real God and Jesus would not do that. That is the man made one in religion with their manupulations and ignorance. Reject religion and you would have already won more than half the war.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  2. n2it

    By your reasoning, Hitler was a "Child of God" and deserved better? I'm sorry for your loss but your reasoning is severely flawed.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • sanat

      Well said! n2it. Some go overboard on their prayers.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:34 am |
  3. PJ M

    Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
    As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
    Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.— From Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man.

    By forgiving the person who killed her sister, she can unload herself of the baggage the killer also left on her. Understandable, and only right. I think it is quilte alright to forgive the person because that seems to be the only way to free oneself of hate. But we should never come to tolerate the act.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  4. JerPell

    That story was nonsense and for the weak hearted, that murderer should have been executed within two weeks of his conviction!

    February 3, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • Matthew

      Yep- should of been executed- kinda like that nut job in Colorado- they know they have the right guy no doubt about it- what is taking so long he should of been executed weeks ago

      February 3, 2013 at 7:24 am |
    • sanat

      I agree!

      February 3, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • JohnnyVVnm

      Romans 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:39 am |
    • LeX

      Since most people like to quote the Old Testament, I've always believed this: "Leviticus, chapter 24, verses 17 through 20: “He who kills a man shall be put to death. When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”
      "

      February 3, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Webby

      Matthew
      " should of been executed"

      Should "of"? One's credibility goes way down when one doesn't know that it is "should have" or "should've".

      February 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  5. angryblackman

    Like a funeral, prayer is not to help the person you are praying for. Prayer helps you to accept the things you cannot affect. In this instance she can affect some change. So praying that her mind is in the right place as she acts on her beliefs is a good thing for her peace of mind. Forgiveness is a good thing and it is never so plain than when children point out the inconsistencies in our beliefs. how can we send them to church and have them read a book where "god" says to forgive regardless of the act and to do unto others and then we dont follow those beliefs. we become the symbol of hypocrisy and the children then become cynical and reject or only give lip service to the beliefs. if you are truly a christian you will forgive and love your enemies as jesus said to do. dont go throwing around the lord's name and quoting him when you dont believe in your heart. then you are committing as big a sin as the man who sinned against you. remember the lord's prayer (it was to forgive trespasses...that means sins against you). I am very happy to hear in this day and age a christian being a true christian. I wish her the best and though I am no longer a christian (not sure i ever was one) I believe that her prayers will lead her down the right path for her and hopefully help those who need it most (the sinners in prison).

    February 3, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • me

      Wonderful reply. Very Biblical actually. Hope you come to Christ. You have a good mind. I'm sure Jesus would love to involve a person like you in His world. A world where we look beyond ourselves, beyond present day unfairness, look beyond Earthly cares and values (which if you look to the past mean little in the long run) and see what could be in Heaven and aim to replicate those values here on Earth.
      Numeric NT: "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth".
      KKV: "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
      The key to satisfaction on Earth is replicating Heaven as best we can here. Heavenly values are what we need to aim for. Heavenly activities contains lots of worship, lots of praise, and lots of communion with the Holy Spirit. Its all in Revelation. I believe God wants believers to celebrate that on Earth. Why wait? Get yourself a great NT translation: The Numeric New Testament is a little better than the King James which is good. Try to stay away from versions that radically change the words. To prove things, take a passage that you've studied a lot and compare the power of the words in both versions. Pray about it. Let God guide you. And may God bless us as we seek Him, His Son our Redeemer and Savior, and the Holy Spirit who empowers us with blessings in countless forms. And remember that Christ did not come to take away from the law and the prophets (the OT). Anything that was not specifically changed in the NT does not change. Like the Saturday Sabbath. Learn how really stopping all work every Friday night to Saturday night can bring rest and refreshment to your stressed out life. Its all about getting back to the Bible: The core of our beliefs, the core of our knowledge, the core of our wisdom.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  6. drinky

    Lady...You missed out on the fact that there is no god...Never was...This POS was just a ball of slime. Not some sort of child of God.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:16 am |
    • Joe

      The fact that you've wandered into the religion blog leads me to believe you don't fully believe what you state. You are likely disgruntled about something in your own life. You might wish to seek some counseling, along with the other lurking atheist trolls, because this should be none of your concern if you practice what you preach.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • midwest rail

      You may want to check the caption at the top – this is not a "religion blog", no matter how much you wish it to be.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  7. Frank

    Should we then forgive Osama Bin Laden as well???? But wait, he was not a juvenile when he murdered thousands, but what if he was?, then what. My heart goes out to this lady, but i disagree. Why is there a heaven and hell then if all should be forgiven.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • jmarno

      Just my differing opinion: Heaven and hell is not about our work, or "doing" that takes you to one place or another... it's about God's work. Now, your free will gets to choose to live by His Faith, or yours. May the force be with you. : )

      February 3, 2013 at 7:27 am |
  8. sockpuppet1984

    I think she's on the right path as far as forgiveness...it is a good and healing thing to be able to forgive someone for wronging you. But forgiveness does not mean an end to consequences. He still must pay the consequences that are prescribed by law for the crimes he committed, even if he is forgiven by God and the family of the victims. I love my children dearly, they are both my children equally, and when they are bad I do not hate them or hold a grudge–I forgive them with love. But they still have to take their punishment, or they would never learn and grow into better human beings.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • Michelle

      I completly agree with your statement.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • NClaw441

      Well said. I think of the Old Testament example of David, who was punished by the death of his first son for his sins with Bathsheba. We can forgive, and God forgives, but there must also be repentance, and consequences.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • MoodyMoody

      @ NClaw441: what did David's son do to deserve death?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  9. boyamidumb

    Psychopaths like this need to be eliminated or locked up forever to protect us all. Forgive if yo can but don't let your forgiveness cause others the same loss and grief!

    February 3, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  10. Joe

    The author's attempt at personal forgiveness and prayer for her enemies is most commendable. I would, however, correct the assumption that she is an equal child of God to the killer. I realize not everyone shares my Catholic theology, but as a 'mortal sinner' who commits such murder without repentance (I assume and do not judge this individual), the killer has made himself an 'enemy of God.' This places him in a very real and frightening path towards eternal damnation (which Jesus clearly described as very real as well). If we only knew what the Father's just punishment will be, we would honestly feel sorry for those on his path.

    I also firmly believe that Christianity not need be 'wishy-washy and soft,' this is a feminized idea of our religion. This is a demented, remorseless killer that should either be locked up forever or mercifully put down. This is just, and is a practical matter to protect the innocent from becoming the victims of a clear sociopath. No amounts of hugs will bring some people 'back'... we must realistically accept that there is evil in the world and to separate it however possible from our communities.

    Keep in mind that Jesus did not argue with the good thief, who stated this his punishment was just for his crimes. He did, however, forgive him and offer him eternal salvation. In that sense, again I commend the author. I will continue to reach for the level of forgiveness that she is seeking.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:09 am |
  11. Michael

    Forgiveness as taught in the bible is a personal responsibility we have toward each other and nowhere does it teach that the government should not punish wrongdoers with punishments up to and including death. Governments are ordained by God to maintain order and "bears the sword" specifically for that purpose.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:09 am |
    • AbbieR

      Um, no, in the U.S., the government is of, by and for the PEOPLE, not your God. That is why there is separation of church and state. Your government has not been "ordained" by anything or anyone.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • NClaw441

      Abbie, that is how Christians believe. You don't have to agree.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  12. JFT

    Some people are broken. Some are born broken, others are broken along the way. They do horrible things and they feel no remorse – and they will do horrible things as often as they please. They MUST be kept away from others, so that they do not kill, maim and destroy. All the prayer in the world, all the wishful thinking, will not change this fact.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • Janet

      I so agree with you JFT. It's wonderful she could find forgiveness. I'm of the belief we should keep coldblooded killers, no matter what age, in prison to carry out the justice sentence.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  13. Redemption for some not all

    This is not the case that should be overturned and I believe in redemption but this type of senseless killing and the complete lack of remorse....and braggadocios behavior leads me to believe that he will only kill again. Lets think about his next victims not about a sociopath that would do this; 16 has nothing to do with it.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:03 am |
    • Ashok

      He is likely to kill again and should not be released.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  14. Headead5231

    What if the killer worships Satan? Doesn't that cancel out praying to god? And what if he's committing sins in the name of Satan in prison? Not sure but if hes for Satan and your for god its a stalemate. Just sayin. Oh I know some dudes that worship Satan and they don't do any crimes. So is Satan good?

    February 3, 2013 at 6:59 am |
    • Joderito

      Satan never cancels God out because they aren't equal.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • sockpuppet1984

      that makes zero sense and is completely irrelevant to her point

      February 3, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • angryblackman

      No but remember. The christian God says to forgive no matter what. do unto others. would you not wish to be forgiven. If a man truly repents in his heart he will be forgiven even if no one but God is witness to his repentence. Even Satan if you believe in him is not beyond redemption. Not because God wont forgive him but because Satan has too much Pride. And that is the downfall. Pride leadeth to Sin and Sin leadeth to death. I believe that is the line from the bible (beel over 30 years since i read the thing as I am not a christian). Sad thing is if you believe everything happens for a reason and its all a part of gods plan how can you not forgive anyone anything? So if you are a christian you either forgive or come to the realization that you are sinning by not forgiving. Remember that is not to say that the bad guys dont get punished. Jesus also said you must obey the law. It is up to the law to punish. So swallow your pride and pray for satan to do the same and who knows maybe you can sit and talk with him in heaven after all things have ended when and if he too swallows his pride and says he is sorry. God forgives and loves.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • Joe

      Your prayers for someone are never cancelled-out, they bring powerful graces that may bring about their repentance. However you are absolutely correct that the cooperation of the individual with the graces they are given is required for them to be effective. Their free will is given to them by God, to do as they will and to follow the devil should they choose. God only asks people to follow His will, and Jesus taught us to pray for a world where the Father's will is done.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:14 am |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Pray without ceasing in 2013
    Prayer changes things

    February 3, 2013 at 6:28 am |
    • nonPCrealist

      but rocks.. it's good for rocks.

      While you are wishing really, REALLY hard for things to change I'll be working my butt off MAKING things change. We'll see which one is more productive.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Bucko

      You need a psychiatrist

      February 3, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  16. Ahappyfarmer

    Good story. Talk about setting a Christ-like example for kids and for others.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:27 am |
  17. Mohammad A Dar

    killers and victims are NOT both children of God, if there is a God, equally beloved and equally fallen. Sorry Jeanne but I respectfully disagree with you and Pundit O’Brien.

    February 3, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • Oh Well

      Forgiveness is not a quality in muslims. It requires a power way greater than their mohamed or their allah.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Oh Well Christians = Buddhas, NOT. Wake up goon.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  18. jarhead333

    As a Christian man, I would like to think that everyone can be corrected. I am currently doing an internship at a juvenile detention center, and I am not sure that I believe that. I must say that NO child I have personally encountered cannot become an upstanding member of society. However, I have heard stories of others that may be beyond repair. So far, in my personal experience, it depends on the family. Many children outwardly express emotions and actions they are around. Parents no longer take responsibility for parenting. Many blame it on the economy or their own situation. Children can so easily be molded, and as parents, we often forget that important fact.

    February 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  19. End Religion

    Yes, I know it gets sticky. Yes I know my view on this is not enlightened. A part of me wishes I could forgive killers but I see it more as a threat to the herd. If a dude has killed your family, brags about it, shows up at the funeral, threatens other members, I have no compunction about killing him myself even though that'd mean the loss of another family member (me, by going to jail). In this case I don't know that I feel the justice system, whose goal is to be fair and cannot protect from future violence, is on the same side as me who could stop his threat of future violence.

    The unknown aspects you question of course make it sticky. It is why we dissuade vigilantes and have a burden of proof at a trial. It appears to be pretty clear cut in this case. I understand it isn't up to me to decide what is clear cut or not. All I can say is I don't expect I'd control myself if this dude killed my sibling let alone her whole family.

    February 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • End Religion

      sorry, this was supposed to be a reply to TTOO below....

      February 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • jarhead333

      A great post!

      February 2, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • Akira

      I remember this; it was a huge story that went nationwide...
      A couple of small points: his mother knew her mother; Winnetka isn't that big of a place.
      His mother went to the funeral; he accompanied her to the funeral; he didn't crash it. I will say that it is disgusting behavior on his part.
      He did tell some students from New Trier HS about some of the details about the heinous crime, but when he was testifying on his own behalf, he said he had only been joking when he told them that. Also, the students he had told thought he was joking; after about six months of this bragging, another student finally told the police about Biro...up until that time, police had no idea who had done it.

      That all being said...I agree with End Religion's post 100%...and this woman is a much better person than I could ever be in this situation.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • Joderito

      I accidentally reported you for spam or something when I meant to hit reply. My apologies.

      I find it interesting that the author of this article prays for his change, but admits that he isn't there yet. This makes her logical and not someone who is interested in releasing criminals who have no business mixing with the public. But, there is hope for redemption, if he wants it. And I pray, too, that he has a change.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:07 am |
  20. End Religion

    This is one area where I part with sensible people. Summarily execute the killer and move on.

    February 2, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I agree with some reservations. Do we trust that the State to catch, prosecute, and execute the right guy? If they have the right guy, by all means send him on to nil.

      February 2, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
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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.