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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. Joe

    We have become too soft, and we will pay for it just like Rome. The justice system favors the criminals. I feel sorry for our children that is going to face off with more and more corrupt and not worthy people in office.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  2. Walter

    Good for you that you can forgive him. Hopefully, the state of Illinois is a bit more hard-nosed than you. While I applaud YOUR personal journey to forgiveness, THE REST OF US DON' T WANT TO RISK SOMEONE LIKE YOU DESCRIBED DOING TO US WHAT HE DID TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  3. Kitty

    I don't understand what she means by the killer getting well enough to be released. What does "well enough" mean? There is evil in this world and he is it. If he gets out, there's a good chance he'll kill again and tear another family apart.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  4. tuffby

    Get well enough to get out? Trying to resist the temptation to just say he'll never change...I don't think medicine and science is advanced enough to be able to determine if he is well or not. If someone with a history like his gets out and murders again (which seems likely to many of us) the blood will be on those who fought to set him free. Prison time has likely hardened him....made him worse...not better.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  5. TheAntiChrist

    NO! Never forgive. Never forget. NEVER! Hate is better than Love. I tried love and being a christian for decades. They are the worst people I have ever known next to cold and unkind worldly people. I have developed so much hate in my heart and mind that I will never, ever forgive or trust any man or woman.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Eye4eye

      That's your burden to bear buddy...bitterness only harms you...when I forgive, I forget the piece of trash that pi$$ed me off.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  6. Richard

    Anyone who would give that pos another chance to do that to another family/baby is mentally unbalanced. What you need is a good shrink.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Poltergeist

      She doesn't have any ability to release or hold him anywhere. Grudges only hold power over the begrudged.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  7. Henry Lee Lucas

    I confessed for Whoppers.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  8. HereticX

    First, the whole Jesus and God thing isn't the real core of what happens in these things. 'Forgiving' is a way to move on and leave behind the anger that makes one bitter for years and years to come. Once a person forgives, then they can move on without having to carry 'hate' with them every moment of their lives. Anyone can argue whether to forgive someone or not, but unless a victim can find some way to deal with it internally to keep hate and anger from festering forever, they will have no reasonable quality of life.... just bitter and unhappy. I loathe organized religion, but in some cases it's the only thing a victim finds to help them cope and deal with their anger and frustration. It could have be done without religion – you don't need religion to forgive (it gives you the eye-for-an-eye option, too). If this is what it takes for her to live in peace, so be it. But another issue is the biblical scholar angle. Almost all real biblical scholars throw in the towel and don't believe the bible literally anymore. But if they're wise and intelligent, they can use a nugget or two from the old book to help someone without making press the "I believe" button. I hope that's the case here. As for paroling the perp, I don't think anyone on a blog is qualified to make that call without years of experience dealing with the killer after the fact. Regardless of any rulings, he's not getting out any time soon if at all.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Eye4eye

      You are educated beyond your intelligence...this killer didn't even show emotion at the trials...he is where he needs to be...or better yet an electric chair frying would be better, or dangling at the end of a rope would be fine...just so long as he is not able to kill again.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  9. Bill e

    Aw shucks, set him free Dagnabit.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Eye4eye

      Yeah so he can kill again...why don't we just arm him.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  10. John

    I can't buy what this woman wrote and I'm not going to get into a debate about God.

    I was sixteen once and I can remember meeting some people in high school that I would prefer never to see again. But it never occurred to me to murder a husband and his pregnant wife. Give me a break. This boy needs to die in prison.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  11. Eye4eye

    Him getting out will not bring your sister back...it makes no sense to let a cold blooded killer go free. He is a burden to mankind and he should be executed speedily and may God have mercy on his soul. Your minister is not the one who suffered this tragic loss. I support the death penalty for any or all killers...but if the state doesn't give the death penalty...then let him rot in prison...where he is free to pray as long as his miserable life exist. Please do not advocate such a silly notion as to let this monster go free...he is where we as society want him...away from our families!

    February 3, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  12. treblemaker

    Praying for someone that has harmed you works because it cleans the bitterness away from the pray-er's spirit. It is similar to Step 3-to turn you will and your life over to the care of God as you understand Him. In my understanding of God, there is a Jewish Messiah called Jesus the Christ who speaks the unvarnished truth. He directed us to pray to God the Father that He forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus the Christ, the holy Son of the Almighty, lived by the toughest example possible by showing the eternal spirits within our bodies the only way back home when our time on earth is done. We must forgive others in order for God Almighty to forgive us. If you look in the mirror, there is really no other way.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  13. dru

    people who commit murder for no reason should be tortured to death like the idiots mass killing people in schools and other places.it may sound bad but this would make u think twice about that instead your own private room with meals.an eye for and eye i think i read that somewhere. think if one of those kids where yours before u write back some crap.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  14. Mohammad A Dar

    She writes "God made each of the juveniles serving life sentences for a purpose." And Humans made laws for a purpose too !!!!

    February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Human law is the reason he might get out.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  15. SALLY

    I don't agree with this woman. Murderers like this one should NOT be let out of prision...what so he can go and kill again....this is the problem....they have a sickness....they need to stay in prison or be shot....an eye for an eye....sad story

    February 3, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  16. where is the sanity

    Screw the magic man in the sky...Life hell. He should have been executed and thrown out like the trash he is.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Texas

      I hope you're the guy just ahead of me in line when we all go see St. Peter.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  17. Kenchandammit

    If one believes in repentance, then doesn't one also believe the killer must repent? Seems to me that, for the killer to truly repent, he must accept his punishment, and take it.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Texas

      Repent for sure. Now get on the gurney, junior. Time to take your medicine.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  18. Logan

    This young lady finds comfort in this belief and I respect that. Personally, I wouldn't be that forgiving. I don't understand why they get life without parole. Isn't that essentially a death sentence?

    February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Bill e

      No...he could repent and mentor others from prison....

      February 3, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Um, no. It means LIFE in prison. See the difference?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  19. jules

    This is not about believing in a God. It is simply right and wrong. A long lived philosophy from mom and dads to kids: "treat others as you would want to be treated." A second chance has been already given to the killer, having a life in jail. A family has been denied to live a full life. Appreciate Bishops heart, but do not see the right.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  20. Pirate65

    If you kill someone, you should be killed (preferably SOON after the murders.) There should be no parole, no second chance. That would end a whole lot of the gun violence in this country. Of course, when you throw religion into any equation, all sense of logic seems to disappear.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • JWT

      No.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Texas

      Screw due process! Da gubmint knows you done it, so you must've done it! Yowza.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

      Pirate is dead on.... No killer is worth more than their victims. Keeping them around does what exactly?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:48 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.