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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. Bob Lewis

    You can personally forgive him all that you want...for me it is about keeping him locked up so they he doesn't get that "second chance" to murder someone else. This is not all about you. It is about keeping society safe from people like David Biro.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  2. nokidding

    I am not buying Jeanne Bishop is now on same level as Jesus Christ.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • lol??

      Women should be taught to love their hubbys and children. Was the shooter taught empathy by his dad?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • midwest rail

      Taught by who ? YOU ?? Hilarious.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • lol??

      rail, you jumped to conclusions, a leap so to speak. Women are to teach women. You rebelled.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  3. Legbreaker

    Being a criminal defense attorney, would you also defend this piece of dog dung with the hopes of getting him off the time time he murders?

    February 3, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • lol??

      She's an elder, dude.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  4. Bill

    All this forgiveness garbage makes me sick. The piece of garbage that did this is wired that way from birth and no amount of rehabilitation will change that. Short of putting one behind his ear he should be kept alive in a dark hole,never to emerge for the rest of his life and left to go mad.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  5. Tommy from the west

    I find this thread interesting, because there is an assumption by believers that there is a god who listens to prayers, and then decides rather to act on them or not. I have never seen a miracle performed. People tell how they have been changed by god after prayer and reflection, but that is simply psychology at work. I feel sorry for this sister, who has somehow filled the emptiness of death with some phantom of belief and prayers.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • lol??

      And you're above Life?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • concerned

      She had to forgive him. It was the only way she would have peace. Miracles happen every day, people who can't believe in miracles call them coincidence. When it is a particularly piercing miracle that is very hard to deny, it is called a "strange coincidence". Forgiveness has healed her of the hate and anger that she had inside her, and it will heal you too, if you want.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • John

      The only thing you can absolutely believe, is that you exist, and that you can't deny. The rest you can deny, everything. The bible is filled with eye witness accounts of those that heard God, and talked with God. Some saw visions. There are obviously accounts that were not included, and the bible says such. You can disbelieve what ever you want, but as many of us know, note I said "know", God does exist.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Poltergeist

      If its psychology at work, they would have never changed without belief in it working, faith. This is why forgiving him would be impossible, even though you'd have no ability to affect his fate. He never felt anything for all the emotion and energy she gave him.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Agnostic one

      I feel sorry for her loss; as to where she finds the ability to be at peace with her loss, who am I to say....

      February 3, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • CommonSense

      Excellent post, Tommy.

      I feel sorry for the victims in this story. However, it is delusional to believe ridiculous statements such as: “We can’t love what he did. But we have to love him, because God made him for a purpose.”
      Really? I suppose that's how it is in the little world of "make believe" where people say things just comfort other people.

      Oh, and mandatory sentences were correctly struck down because it is a judges right to hear each case individually and pass sentences as appropriate. It's called democracy.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  6. Fred Evil

    Religious nonsense. You're so deluded...I pity you and those like you.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  7. J

    What this woman wrote makes me sick. How could you ever forgive someone who murdered your loved ones in cold blood? That the killer was legally a minor when he committed the murders is irrelevant. Sixteen is old enough to know that murder is wrong. Mercy? Never.

    Ms. Bishop can believe whatever she wants. However, she's now going to attempt to influence the law, forcing everyone else in the same position to accept her religious views.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  8. FETUS SMASH

    Instead of using a traditional leather football for the Super Bowl this year, Obama and Pelosi are requiring them to be replaced with a fetus.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Barrington Bear

      At Pelosi's house she has a cannon that can shoot a fetus over one and a half miles.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Fred Evil

      Oh, if only it could have been yours.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Teddy Fuxspin

      Water balloon fights are so passe. My friends and I prefer fetus fights. Just good old fashioned christian homeland jesus loving fun.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Aw...still bitter you guy lost, I see.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  9. lol??

    "A third-generation elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Ms. Bishop is a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago."....http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanne-bishop/ Somebody is outa their mind and doesn't believe scripture.

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

      So she is somehow less of a Christian because she is an Elder at a Presbyterian Church and doesn't make snarky internet posts under the holy name of lol?? in the name of the Scriptures? Who are you to judge the level of her belief and her integrity as a Christian? Nobody. You're unqualified to judge anyone at all.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • lol??

      Grace, you're correct cuz I'm the least and NOT popular. "1Cr 6:4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church."

      February 3, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  10. joesox

    Maybe God is the one who needs to repent.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  11. Marc

    Jeanne, how will you know that the murderer is truly repentant and is therefore worthy of his freedom? What will you say to the parents of the next victim this psycho kills when he is freed ? I have seen this scenario repeated over and over with the same tragic results. I agree with you, let him live so that he may have the chance of redemption, but keep him separate for the good of society.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Becky

      Your response makes more sense than any other. As aChristian myself, her argument makes more sense for working against the death penalty than life in prison. I have worked within the prison system as a nurse & have yet to meet a true psychopath that is sorry for what they did, just sorry they got caught. He killed to know what it would feel like! Life in prison is what it should feel like.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  12. Legbreaker

    The poor thing is a few bricks short of a full load. There is no God ytou pea head. There is no Jesus either. The bible is a poorly written book of fiction. The laod that killed your sister must pay....and pay dearly. Fini

    February 3, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  13. Col Chank

    The killer should be set free and awarded the Medal of Honor. He is just a good american exercising his 2nd Amendment rights.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Suz

      Ahh,I love the smell of sarcasm in the morning. Good laugh on a bad morning, thanks.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  14. Jeff

    What a bunch of crap! With Jeanne's new found ability to forgive her sister's (and family's) killer and her new support for his release, what will happen after he's freed? He will kill again. Then what will Jeanne feel and say? Perhaps something like "Oh, he just had a momentary slip-up and we need to forgive him again." What a dreadful thing to do the memory and honor of those he killed . . to release him and then subject another family to the pain and suffering that that killer will inflict on them. If this is the result of "getting religion," I'll take a pass.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Poltergeist

      None if it is up to her to begin with.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  15. Geo

    Then offer to put him up in your house.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  16. Disgusted

    What a sick disgusting person the author of this article is. It sickens me to see someone sell their own murdered family members out in the name of political cultism. Tell the truth, your nonsense is not about forgiveness, it is about obsession with leftist zealotry. You would sell out your own dead family in the name of your beloved leftist causes such as hatred of the death penalty (unless of course it's 1.5 million babies sentenced to death each year). Absolutely sickening. You delude yourself into believing you are enlightened now, but the truth is quite different. You are now no different than the piece of garbage that murdered your family, in fact you are now contributing to the death of the next family wiped out by a murderer, by assuring that murderer that you will be campaigning for a soft sentence for them. Your mind is diseased and I am certain that your dead relatives who's graves you have now spit upon, are turning over in their graves at your cowardice and betrayal.

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

      Agree...if he gets out will kill again and probably Bishop. Why did he pick the sister?.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  17. Yikes!

    That's just self-righteous garbage, sister!

    February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  18. slickteig

    Amen, this is God's will, not ours, and He is the only judge of anyone. This is true faith as Jesus taught! He never said any of His will, ways would be easy, just that they must be followed and trust Him to lead us.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  19. lisa besaw

    Not happy this website took over my Facebook page!

    February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  20. lol??

    Did Jeanne Bishop get approval from her hubby for her views?

    February 3, 2013 at 10:59 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.