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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. Cathal O'Ceallaigh

    Dear Jeanne; Your essay brought tears to my eyes. You are just as courageous as I remember you from the projects we worked on together back in the 80's. I am in awe of your ability to forgive or consider forgiveness after such a personal tragedy. I am especially thankful for your etymology lesson on the word origin of repentance. You have indeed gone beyond the mind that you had. You have set a very good example for the rest of us in doing so. You have truly made God's work, your own.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      you should fear what you have just said
      truly dangerous stuff....

      February 3, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  2. Ed Napier

    Jeanne Bishop is a great wittness to the love of Jesus Christ. It makes so little sense to trust Christianity; its benefits are not of this world, but its Grace changes the world – utterly, daily. Through Jesus all is forgivem, and we are called as Christian poeple to forgive our brothers and sisters 7 X 70 times. And ideally, we are not at liberty to pick and choose those sins to forgive; there is no hierrarchy of sin. As the Apostle Paul says, when you have broken the law in one respect, you have broken the law in all. There is none righteous – no not one. Many criminologists assert that for certain psychopathic killers, there is no hope for rehabiilitation, but we believe as Christian people that, as the archangel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin when she questioned how could it be that she could conceive a child when she had not known a man, with God all things are possible. The God of Israel suprises us by constantly undermining our notion of the credible and the practical because God is a God of the incredible and the miraculous. Like our very existence in the Universe. And it is interesting to remember God's response to the children of Israel when they rejoiced after Phaoroh's army was drowned in the sea, and the Lord, was like, wait, those Egyptians are my children, too. In both the Old and New Testaaments, Christians and Jews are admonished to be forgiving, and when we learn to love our enemies, this is a profound emulation of the DIvine. It is a holy thing, and surely, this kindness opens the portal to the kingdom of God on the earth like few other things. And it is a Grace that is miraculous and incredible. And calls our attention to the reality that the great news of the Gospel is not that Christ came, but that He is here – in our hearts – always in front of us – in the face of every human we see. Pray for Peace. He reigns!

    February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Mark

      What a joke, pray for peace. More wars have been fought in the name of. god than any other reason and killed millions. Besides, what happened to an eye for an eye?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  3. ima_robot_beepbeepbeep

    religion breeds retards. this is just another prime example.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Mike

      Robots have no soul. You'll be dead much longer than you'll be alive. Make certain you end up where you want to be when the game of life is over ... enjoy your life and death.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Say it again

      A-men brother!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  4. RonFromNM

    Jeanne, I'm sorry for your loss, your pain and that your religion gives you comfort. However, the killer (and I am NOT going to say his name, because this is what such killers want... fame) is where he needs to be, so he isn't out among the general public where he can do it AGAIN.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  5. justacomment

    Wow – so many misconceptions about Christianity, God, and Biblical content. Let's see – I've never studied psychology and have no education in counseling or medicine. However, I'm kind of smart. I think I'll go find an article on depression and attempt to ridicule someone who's sharing their feelings about a sister who committed suicide because she was depressed.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  6. Kris

    It is a very hard thing to lose someone you love to murder. I lost a dear friend to murder, and cannot imagine how much harder it would be if it had been my father rather than the father of my best friend. The struggle for me is pale compared to the struggle of his children. Yet his children learned a lot from their dad, including compassion. While they testified at the murder trial, and were glad to see the murderer behind bars so he could not harm another, they also campaigned for an end to capital punishment. While they do not wish to see the person released while he is a threat to society, they pray for his recovery. IThat does not appear to be likely in this case. However, in this very difficult introduction to the world of violence and pain, they, and I through them, have also seen that there are some for whom there is hope. To see hope emerge from the abyss of evil is an amazing thing. Does care have to be taken that hope isn't misplaced? Of course. But to see the potential for there to be some good emerge is healing. Even in cases when there does not appear to be any potential for hope, to let go of vengeance changes something inside one. It doesn't change the sadness, the pain of losing someone you loved, but it makes the memories of the person lost more comforting and less painful. It takes away the power of the perpetrator to continue to hurt.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  7. blloyd06

    "God made him for a purpose" If anyone told me that about my siblings murder... I'd punch them square in the face. There is no reason for this, some people are just crazy. You can forgive them, but that doesn't mean their cognitive and rational abilities have caught up to civilized society.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Scott f.

      Sure let him out and see how many hours pass before he slaughters someone else.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  8. FreeFromTheism

    oh, your kid said that god creates stuff for a purpose, then it MUST be true
    get out of here
    do some critical thinking ffs

    February 3, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  9. Terry

    Rorschach: Men get arrested. Dogs get put down.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  10. hcc2011

    CNN has stooped to new lows in the promotion of the liberal agenda. As a lifelong (until recently) liberal, I can say that the pendulum has swung too far and it's past time to bring back INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONE'S ACTIONS in the American psyche. We've become a bunch of lazy crybabies wanting someone else to take care of us and forgive all our transgressions. From cheating sports "heros", to lying politicians, to the middle-class bums who think someone else should clean their houses and groom their lawns, to the 47% who expect the government to pick up their tab for their miserable existence. We are a falling empire and it's sad to see. The kid in question, here, should feel blessed he wasn't executed and devote HIS life to praying for others.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • blloyd06

      Nothing you said made sense, even after correcting your grammatical and spelling mistakes.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • ??

      ..another %47 er?Another pray away the pain er?Some people JUST don't get it,and probably never will.That would be YOU.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      "I'm normally not a praying man, but if you can hear me....Save us Superman!!!" Homer J Simpson

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  11. Dregob

    What was Hitler's purpose? Charles Manson's purpose? What utter nonsense.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  12. a dose of reality

    Is that the zombie Jesus you're praying to? The one who came to Earth as his own son, in order to die (but not really) and then go back into the sky to join himself (this is the ultimate sacrifice????) so that people, if they telepathically say that zombie Jesus is their master, will be cleansed of the sin that was placed on them thousands of years ago when a lady made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple, and if they do that (even if they are the most horrible, evil people in the world) get to live forever in paradise, while people who don't accept zombie Jesus will burn forever? Is that the Jesus you pray to?

    February 3, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Blake

      Dose of reality?? Really?? Open your eyes and realize that Jesus, that your mocking is alive and sitting on the right hand of God. Open your eyes, stop being a fool and know that you have a creator. It is not too late for you to repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins and to live the rest of your life for God.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  13. Andy

    I think we should forgive God for making this thing.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Not forgive, FORGET.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  14. Mandor

    I respect your belief, and I respect your hope that your sister's killer can be redeemed.

    I do not share it. Perhaps that is my own failing. If someone is far enough gone to murder a family of total strangers "just to see what it feels like"... no. I have NO hope that anyone that empty can become a decent human being.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • RonFromNM

      And more importantly for society be released so he has the opportunity to do it again. Let him rot.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Frazier

      Very well put. As a former police officer I can tell you that there are some people without soul and a conscience. They live among us and unfortunately do things like this. They just need put away,,for good.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  15. -1

    It's so sad she was brainwashed by religious idiots in thinking of having compassion for such a dastardly individual, because that's what "God would want".... Hope the murderer rots for as long as he lives and that other people dont fall prey to people's stupidity such as this womans.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  16. John

    how about we send him to God for forgiveness....she won't need to pray for it any longer. God will take care of it.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • Sue Jorgensen

      That was really close to what I was thinking, Get him to God sooner so his heart can be judged.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  17. Tina U

    I can understand she wanted to forgive for the sake of moving on. However to go as far to say a criminal who has no remorse deserves another chance just so he can go kill again? I think not!!!! How goofy can u be.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Dave1955

      That's not what she said at all. Your reading comprehension needs some work.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Matthew

      That's not what she said, though. She specifically said that he is not ready to be released yet. In fact, she didn't even hint that she might think it will happen soon. She simply prays that one day he will be rehabilitated to where he can be released. Lack of remorse will prevent that from happening since one can't be paroled without it.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  18. ru serious

    OMG, my heart goes out to this person for such a terrible loss but it is beyond my comprehension that she can "forgive" the POS. Can't begin to understand, I would want to tear him from limb to limb myself. Must be some kind of religious thing beyond my understanding................

    February 3, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  19. mgrifftacoma

    The essence of forgiveness from a Christian standpoint is that the criminal to express sorry for the sin committed. In this case the murderer does not regret his crime at all – the place for such an evil soul is hell for eternity!

    February 3, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Mandor

      Strictly speaking, the article is silent on that matter. Perhaps he does sincerely regret it, perhaps he does not. The author does not say either way.

      But about the only this criminal could do to make me truly believe he understands the gravity of what he had done, would be if he took his own life in shame. I'm sorry, i've seen far too many politicians, athletes, etc wrap themselves in a bible clamoring for forgiveness when I am absolutely SURE that it's a sham. And again, perhaps this is my failing. Perhaps I'm simply too vindictive to believe them. I am jaded and cynical in many things. Life teaches hard lessons.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      @Mandor
      "I don’t know that he will; he is not there yet. "
      she does say it

      February 3, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  20. NC

    Jeanne, It takes tremendous heart, courage, and faith to have gone through and arrived at where you are at. We need more people in the world like you:-) Thank you for sharing...

    February 3, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      no, we need more people that think for themselves

      February 3, 2013 at 10:19 am |
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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.