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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. Melissa

    Wow, religious people are fools.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • jaw4

      I see I wasn't the only one thinking the exact same thing!

      February 3, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • the gang

      Thomas Jefferson

      Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

      John Adams

      I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

      James Madison (4th POTUS, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights)

      During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

      Thomas Paine

      I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • lol??

      Your conclusion is quite a leap.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • the gang

      (I see an initial obscene reply to this post was removed by cnn.)

      February 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  2. ReggieMoto

    I have noticed that many of the recent stories being paraded in the press have to do with the tragedy of loss. There are probably as many stories to tell regarding the happiness and joy resulting from the thwarting of a deadly encounter through the use of a handgun, but those stories never seem to see the light of day. I'd say it's curious but we all know it's not curious at all.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Poltergeist

      That's becuase more people end up shooting themselves than thwarting stuff. In fact they do that more than getting killed by bad guys.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  3. AndyMax71

    "Bernardine Dohrn and Randolph Stone whose advocacy on behalf of children I have always admired"

    Bernardune Dohrn? The terrorist that advocated murdering innocent people? You admire THAT? You need psychiatric treatment. No wonder you're now supporting those who murdered your family. Sicko.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  4. Theresa

    I just don't understand how you can forgive a cold blooded killer. I think you want to forgive so you can move on yourself. Why would you fight to release this juvenille? Do you want another family to hurt like your hurting? Your poor Mother...it sounded like she was relieved that he was put behind bars. How could you betray your family like that? Yes in order to heal you need to let go of the hate....however, please don't fight to let a cold blooded killer out to hurt others. He is a sick individual. He doesn't live in reality! Remember, you have children protect them!!! Sorry....I just don't understand!

    February 3, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  5. EmeraldCity

    So, in other words, you've got a change of heart about what you admit is a remorseless sos because you "found god." Meaning, you've allowed yourself to be brainwashed. And you've done so because you want to be able to feel better. That's all. This doesn't change the fact that your psychopath enemy still doesn't care and would kill again in a heartbeat. It's a coping mechanism. That's all.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  6. maria

    God didn't create "REPENTANCE" ,men created and you are sick really sick ! and your God let this kid to commit this awful murederes! I hope you feel peace with your faithand your God ......you need is meds. pronto!

    February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Poltergeist

      I hope you never experience major grief like she did. It makes no sense to allow someone to wrong you then dominate your thoughts and actions for the sake of a grudge that can never be avenged.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  7. lorna barkan

    There are some in this world who will always remain the same, regardless of your prayers. I'm sure there are many mothers and fathers who beggged God to release their children from suffering mental retardation, or illness in any form but to no avail. This boy at 16, who decided to kill to "see what it feels like" is profoundly mentally defective. There is no cure for him, no pill that will make him have a conscience. I understand why you pray for him but even by your own words he hasn't reached a point yet where he should be let out...although it's been almost 20 years that he's been locked up. There are some people who need to be confined until they are no longer breathing, there are some who need the death penalty to give understanding of what they did on an emotional level, to create a soulful, empathetic change before they die. There are some people who commit crimes (even murder) and need to be let out of prison because they are changed by the experience...and will never do it again. It sounds like you have to pray alot harder and more often for this man

    February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • dale

      Israel was enslaved as captives for 70 years because because they failed to properly celebrate the sabbath year for seven hundred years.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • dale

      babylonian captivity

      February 3, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  8. Agnostic one

    Why all of the hate because she found a way to be at peace with her loss? Her path to healing does not depend on what you believe; it only depends on what she believes. I am not a believer in Christianity, but I also do not disbelieve it. I leave "god" to each individual and if she has found peace through her belief and prayer, who am I to say otherwise....

    February 3, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  9. johnbk

    adam and eve sinned. God was saddened. adam and eve asked for forgiveness. God forgave them, but still punished them for their disobedience.
    This person sinned and disobeyed Gods commandment. he is being punished. The rest is between God and himself.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  10. maria

    I don't know what makes me more sick the murederes of your sister ,the unborn child ,her husbad,or YOU! it makes me sick, the faith ,the God who was not there for your sister when she was killed all of his makes my tomach turn inside out! if you is so forgiven go and marry him ,have babies with him ! it makes me sick I don't feel a iota of sorry for you , yo are a mistake in life really! your and your sick FAITH is sick ....I don't believe in forgiveness at all I believe" teeth for teeh , tooth for tooth rule" what is wrong with you?

    February 3, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • dale

      its ok to be mad at God. you aren't going to disqualify yourself. Paul the apostle killed Christians was before he called to faith.

      Peace be with you Maria, and love. God became flesh, and so He understands what it's like to be human, and He values your morality, He smiles at your well reasoned opinion. He was murdered as well, and He is still a loving and merciful God. This does not mean that there are not consequences in life.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • John

      It looks like you're saying you reject God. How do you feel about kids playing in violent virtual worlds where they train all day long to become serial killers? Is that OK? What would the kid have been like if instead, his parents taught him not to kill and to respect the fragility of life and enjoy the beauty of it... instead of shooting holes in it while racking up points in a game for a higher score?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  11. dutchtown

    None believer's;you want evidence of God,just look up at the stars.billions of galaxies with billions of stars in each galaxy.
    where did they come from?How did they get there?A big bang perhaps?Then what power started the big bang?I applaued this women who would pray for this killer but I wouldn't necessarily be praying for his release,just his soul.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  12. treblemaker

    One more blog, even though it doesn't belong here. Any person who believes there is no God (atheists, listen up!) traps their spirits behind the folly of the mind, which is the devil's playground. God knows the hearts of all men, even those who hate Him or deny His existence. The devil cannot enter your life through your heart, only through your mind. "Rational reasoning" only leads the unwitting down a maze from which there is no escape. The truth, as Jesus the Christ says, will set your heart, mind, and spirit free-from the clutches of the Great Tempter, who will lead us the wrong way if we allow it. More next week.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Hello

      anyone who is so gullible ( theists Listen up) that they can believe in silly supernatural garbage is only being led like a sheep to insane thinking.
      there are no god/s and there never was a jesus..
      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill and learn who wrote the bible and why...
      HINT: is is a Roman joke book.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • buzzie

      Wow these right wing wack jobs keep using god cant think on their own

      February 3, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  13. Jeff

    God this, God that. What are the furvous religious believers going to do when science can demonstrate that no god is required to have created the universe? We’re already on the cusp. Religion is just a crutch, a way of coping with the fear of the unknown; purely a product of man’s own invention. Think about it. Belief in a god (or gods) began thousands of years ago before people had any clue about how the world around them actually worked. As science progresses, the need for a god to explain the previously unknown shrinks more and more.

    This guy’s a sociopath. Pure and simple. His brain has distinct differences from that of a “normal” person. There’s no cure or treatment. Invocations of god aren’t going to help. So where does the compassion belong? To him as an individual, or society? Until there IS a cure, he should be kept ISOLATED from the rest of us.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • John

      Science? Science gave the virtual worlds the kids play in where they train each day to become serial killers. There is no punishment in the virtual worlds, instead, the kids are rewarded for killing as many as possible. He wanted to try it out "for real". Is anyone shocked? Seriously, is anyone shocked anymore? It's like, "oh, another serial killer kid or young adult, huh... is anything else going on in the world today?"

      February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Hello

      The catholic god likes to watch his priests use their little boys as s(E)x toilets. He watches it every time and does nothing but help hide the priest from the LAW. Their god works in mysterious ways... so they claim.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Paul

      Jeff, stop wasting your time with the religious fanatics. They are forever lost in the pages of biblical mythology, stories that they simply do not understand. All religions are false. All of them. They might as well believe in the story of the Three Bears.

      Think about it. If some God really did create all of us, then He made us the way we are. And if that is true, then David Biro (the murderer) was made the way he is. Hence, God intended for him to be a murderer. Is this NOT the logical outcome? And if David is supposed to be a murderer, since God created him that way, who are we to get in his way and detain him from following his natural tendencies? Naturally, this line of reasoning is false because a supreme being full of love would never create a murderer. And since murderers exist, then we must conclude that we were not created by any supreme being. Hence, no God created us.

      At any rate, this killer took the life of one or more people in a premeditated act of cold blooded murder. It does not matter that, one day, he might feel sorry for his actions. Their blood is on his hands and he must pay the ultimate price. He must be put to death to pay for his crime. If these religious freaks, such as the sister in this article, want to forgive this teenage boy for committing the murder, that's their business. But the courts must be out of their mind to allow this murderer to continue breathing air. THIS EVIL MUDEROUS MONSTER MUST BE PUT TO DEATH TO PAY FOR HIS CRIME.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • dale

      Hello thats evil you notice? on a grander scale, all men will always be found as sinners. Is Christ therefore the minister of sin, certainly not.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Ed

    Another example of the insanity of religious zealotry...

    February 3, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Paul

      So true. Once a person's mind becomes trapped inside the boundless insanity of religion (The Matrix), they are trapped forever. Only a small remnant are able to escape to seek greater enlightenment. And the truth is so vastly different than the many false theologies, that a mind poisoned with religion could not accept it. Why? Because the real world simply does not conform to the comfortable, safe, and predestined (planned) world invented through the pages of biblical mythology.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  15. sherry

    Forgive,but never forget.For he would def. kill again if given the chance.Jesus would not want this.He`s been forgiven enough already,by not being executed himself-which should of been his punishment ! What a cold,heartless,sick,unremorseful peice of crap.He should never see the light of day again !

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

      I hope when Jeanne and her family get to face a kid with a gun who just wants to know what is it like to kill someone, she can stand there with pride as the bullets tear apart her and her families bodies.. talk about what religion does to a human brain..

      makes it super stupid.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  16. Johnboy

    Give me a break! He was old enough to feel no remorse for slaying them, so let him and others like him rot in prison, where they belong. He's lucky in that he gets everything his victims no longer have the luxury of getting. I don't believe in forgiveness. It's against the laws of nature. I don't mind her feeling forgiveness, if it makes her feel batter about herself, but I strongly object to do-gooders working to get legislation passed to release animals like him into the general population, freeing them to kill innocent men, women and children again.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • wetz88

      If he is released and does kill again will it be due to the current gun laws? I am not a pro gun nut, my point is that releasing people like this back into society is just inviting a potental disaster. There are aprox. 280 M guns in this country. If he is so inclined he will have no problem getting one and killing regardless of what the law is. People like this need to stay locked up.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Hello

      If her sister and her husband had been armed.. this kid might be the one boxed up in his grave.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  17. Moby Schtick

    This topic is boring. Let's discuss something else.

    February 3, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  18. Fred

    Jeanne, first, I'm sorry for what you have been through. But this storyis just wrong. Why do people who always quite the bible regarding forgiveness forget that the same book said, "an eye for an eye". And I hope you really didn't pray for that dirtbag at the burial site of your loved ones. To forgive is fine if it helps you heal...but this is a bit much in my opinion.

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

      He should have been tossed in her sister's grave hole alive... and buried with his victim alive.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  19. Wake up!

    What is wrong with this world??!! This lady has lost her mind and is looking for answers and has come up with religion to fix her pain. God didn't put this killer on the Earth for a reason. What was the reason? To kill her family members???? I can't believe she is prayer for this man. "we can't love what he did but we have to love him" She's a freak and her children will grow up brainwashed. It's people like this, that make this world difficult to live in. Not because she gives people second chances, but because she thinks God has control on what everyone does in this world....Grow up!!!!

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

      Why does it matter to you how she finds her peace?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • nick

      Agreed, you make some great points! This woman is so overcome with grief that she have lost her ability to be objective!

      February 3, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • concerned

      God doesn't control anyone. We all make our own choices and live with the consequences–in this life and the next, including David Biro. She had a problem in her life, we all do, and she made a choice of how to deal with that problem. Was her choice correct in the eyes of God? we will see.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Another good reason for her forgiveness. The juvenile laws being passed need objectivity not hurt crusaders.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Wake up!

      It's just like these "born-agains" who think they could be a horrible person their whole life and just repent and everything will be fine...it's all a bunch of BS! Everyone hides behind this idea of God when things can't be explained or something horrible goes wrong. It's called life!!!! Things can't always be explained! So why do I care? Because these people are everywhere in the world and their philosophy has been a disease to society! All wars have come from either disputes over land or religion. The more idiots that believe in a God = the more hatred and deaths we will have.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Poltergeist

      That's your opinion. Relgion has shaped society just like anything else. It can do good and evil depending on who practices it. It still doesn't explain why her method of finding inner peace matters to you. Have you found a better method?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Hello

      Her insane thinking is not peace... it is just being stupid.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Uh huh.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Will

    Very disappointing. The reasons (if any) that this juvenile should ultimately be forgiven have to do with the fact that his terrible parents made him who he is. We are all born beautiful blank slates capable for fantastic good or unspeakable evil. It's kind of a crap-shoot who gets to decide what happens next. So to the extent that this kid is deeply evil, we should blame his parents and most likely his mom since he probably never had a dad. Those are the reasons we should forgive, not some arbitrary and stupid religious mumbo-jumbo...

    February 3, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • jules

      blank slate? It is not only parents. Are you a parent? Parenting or not, kids make the choice in the end. simple as a school test, the parent is not there to select the answer, thus not accountable for the grade.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:41 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.