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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. stan

    Ms Bishop-

    I truly offer you my deepest condolence and respect. What a terrible nightmare for you and and all the people who needed and loved Nancy. And what a tragedy for our whole society that we are suffering this violent madness. However, I'm also sorry that so many people can only find compassion or desire for righteousness, or compassion through the love or fear of a deity. Why can people not feel "the spirit" or humanity within themselves simply because we can not bear suffering - our own suffering, the suffering of people we love, or the suffering of any other man woman, child - or any living thing. I am thankful for your change of heart -- but I ache to be like some other people who turn from revenge because they feel such deep humanity. I sometimes wonder if I could do what you - and especially, they – have done. I hope so.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  2. Col Chank

    Why are most christians so overweight and physically repulsive? They all remind me of Honey Boo Boo's mother. Not to mention uncultured and unintelligent.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Chris

      You sir, sound so intelligent! Did you break a crayon this morning?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  3. UpstateNYgal

    If forgiveness and prayer for this killer make her feel better.... great. However, he must remain in prison for life. Arthur Shawcross and that guy who shot four firemen, killing two of them on 12/24/12 in Webster, NY are prime examples of murderers who were let out of prison only to go out and kill even more people. In fact I would wallpaper their cells with photos of their victim so they can stare the faces of their victims for the rest of their lives.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  4. Donna Ahern

    To err is human.To forgive is divine. I can imagine how difficult it would be to not want the killer dead or suffering. But everyone deserves a second chance. Forgiveness is truly a selfless act.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Chris

      A second chance to do what, murder? How many second chances do you think a murderer has had by the time he murders? Most are from broken homes, fighting and stealing every day, causing trouble at school (if they even attend), etc. No way should a murderer get another chance to murder, ever, not even in prison! Execute!

      February 3, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • pat

      Yep, lets let him out of prison...forgive him, give him a new car, let gods little creature drive to the local gun shop, and oh yes, let him kill some more, and then you can forgive him again.
      Now, back to reality, drop this guy into an active volcano.

      February 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Google the guy, Donna. He murdered to see what it felt like and to see if he could get away with it. His career goal was to be an assassin. He bragged about these murders, and as far as I have been able to tell, has never expressed an ounce of remorse.

      Should he be released from prison, it would likely be giving him a second chance to murder, not turn his life around. Save your forgiveness for those who earn it, and keep it from those who would just take advantage of it.

      February 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  5. LP

    As I read through some of the comments below, I find it interesting that the subject justice has not come up. Whether criminals will one day be better, repentant, or not, there is still such a thing as justice to be carried out. Just like a child who hits their friend, whether sorry or not afterwards, should still suffer the consequences. Forgiveness is not for the law, since it is not capable of truly knowing a change of heart in criminals.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  6. Sara

    I do have strong opinions about juvenile sentences and agree it is inhumane in many cases to lock these kids away for life. AND - the US currently locks up more of its population than any other country in the world, it has become a booming business. There is something seriously wrong with our current incarceration model.

    But - this kid who committed this murder - I agree that there is something profoundly wrong with him, and he would need extensive therapy and work - and may still not ever be fit for society. There is a total lack of empathy, here - someone who is able to kill for sport, with no remorse. You could not carelessly release someone like this back into the population, or there would likely be more victims.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  7. asdhj

    Your really loving up on the killer of your family. Taking all this time to care for him and try to help him. What would your sister think about this article???? Your worse then he is.....

    February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  8. jofish

    What about the Old Testament? An eye for an eye? Laughable Bible cherry-picking. Let him rot it prison. Its more of a life than he left his victim. = justice

    February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Sara

      The Old Testament is just that - old. It was geared toward a more primitive age, hence the coming of Jesus and the 'New Testament', which is much more about compassion, love and redemption.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  9. Bisco Stu

    Fat, ignorant midwestern people are great.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  10. swordsfor500

    Look up Sarah Kruzan if you want to know why mandatory life sentences for juveniles is a bad idea.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      still don't get why it is a bad idea....

      February 3, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • swordsfor500

      @FreeFromTheism – Are you serious? Care to elaborate??

      February 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  11. Pcoladeb

    Forgive and pray all you want for yourself and the heartless murderer of your loved ones. Please don't advocate for his release. He's the type who would do it again. If he were to kill my loved ones, I can assure you that I would never forgive anyone responsible for his release. If he is reformed, he still deserves to be locked up for his crimes.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  12. Thomas Joseph

    You can serve Gods purpose from jail too. It is divine to forgive but for those that were killed there is no parole. He should find life's purpose from whatever life he has made for himself.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  13. Tanya

    The Bible says Forgive and Forget, that frees us from the constant anger and grief unjust acts we continue to carry bring to our lives. It does not though say Forgive and Be Stupid, well and good to pray for this young mans soul, but to release him to be a danger to society again falls into the Stupid caegory. God will deal with him and it is his job and his choice to judge weither to release and forgive him not ours.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Richard

      the Bible says alot of things maybe you should read the whole thing instead of trying to lead us all, I got a leader already...you might know Him but if you do not I would suggest you look Him up.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  14. cheekyindian

    You repented? Well I am religious but not a religious nut. Maybe reading the Bible too much for comfort has made you unrealistic. You repenting or praying for this man is not going to change things(maybe for you but not for him). The question at large is should the system allow a known criminal to have chance to repeat. Look at the man- joking about murder, attending your sisters funeral. A teenager knows right from wrong. Maybe in a less obvious scenario, the call for no life sentence would be appropriate. Not here. If he continues his research on murder, another family will have their lives ruined too. I bet those law professors fighting for no juvi life sentence have no experience in fighting crime than looking at textbooks in classrooms.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Or they aren't so dead focused on one person that they forgot the bigger picture.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  15. Skeptic

    She has gone crazy.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  16. The Promise of Thomas

    What a pant load of malarky.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  17. allenwoll

    .
    A life sentence, with or without a possibility of parole, or even a just long prison sentence is cruel and inhumane ! !
    .
    Excecution is much, MUCH less cruel : It's OVER ! ! !
    .
    So is Jeanne Bishop cruel for prattling on the way she has, trying to get others to support and share her wild hallucinations. . Jeanne, please stay OUT of the justice system : Do not further pollute it !
    .
    Intentional killing outside the law - even with provocation - can NOT EVER be forgiven by a rational soul ! !

    February 3, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Chris

      Execution is also a more just punishment. Not only that this killer, regardless of age, would never kill again if executed. The story is about compassion, forgiving. You can have compassion and forgiveness, but it should come with a just punishment. Murdering 3 people is not to go without the appropriate punishment, no matter how many liberals condone it!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • jofish

      @ Chris – Actually, I'm a liberal who believes in the death penalty.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  18. Crunkburry

    Sounds like the sister had an abortion ala bullet. I thought christians oppossed that stuff.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Bisco Stu

      We need to put guns inside the fetus so our unborn can protect themselves.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  19. SSE

    That may be all well and good for you, sister, but what about me and my family? And the rest of society? We do not want a killer walking around our streets. You have a responsibility to stand up and fight to keep this person behind bars. So go ahead and forgive him if that eases your restless soul. But you do not need to support his release. You can forgive him without endangering the rest of us.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Chris

      You are right, she knows a killer and she should not do anything to release him to the rest of society as a weapon.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Dead On

      You hit the nail on the head. This woman now wants to endanger society because she had some 'change of heart'? She's obviously some kind of egomaniac who thinks we all should do her will as she currently sees it. What happens if she gets some criminals released and then has another 'change of heart'? Will she then fight to have them put back into prison? Rather, they will senselessly harm someone else and get put back in anyway. She clearly hasn't thought this through very well. I am a somewhat religious person, but these types of 'epiphany' moments like this are embarrassing to those whose faith teaches them some manner of humility. I am humble enough to know that if my mood changes, it doesn't mean the rest of society should suddenly change the rules of behavior.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  20. florence

    Thats wonderful for her and she is free but I dont think she should fight to free him...if he has shown no remorse then the forgiveness doesnt work on his end and that would allow him to harm more people...Forgiveness means absolutely nothing to people like him unless they are truly sorry and repent.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:51 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.