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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. Lee

    Sorry, but I simply don't agree with this story. Anyone who would do this to my family deserves to rot in whatever cell they were put in. This person, simply put, is pure evil who will never rehabilitate and he must simply await his ultimate judgement...

    "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”"Romans 12:19

    February 3, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  2. Eliyahu

    This is ridiculous a person who uses his/her free will to live a good life is not the same as a young man who uses his free will to murder in cold blood. This fuzzy thinking only creates more murderers. What should be done with the young man is a whole other question. Also do me a favor there are many many people out there who live decent lives who need your prayers. Don't waste them on a remorseless killer.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  3. Lucke

    What is "forgiving"? I am not referring to an external expression, but to a inner one. External forgiving is easy: just say so... First of all it implies in understanding the "whys" , I suspect. For instance, if the guy is a psychopath means he is nuts; that is like having a rattlesnake playing in the backyard with kids... it will go wrong. But nobody will like the idea of having a "rattlesnake" freely playing in his own garden – that's up to the law. If we learn how to deal with rattlesnakes we won't have problems, unless we get unaware of it... and that happens... sadly.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  4. Donnie S

    Fighting the same battle, Ms. Bishop, my son was assaulted by a person and suffered a traumatic brain injury. My son's offense, he is white. A small number of Hispanics in this community have made it a sport of finding a white person by himself and beating them. Seeing my son laying in the trauma unit – battling to know who he was , why he was there, to learn to speak, brush his teeth, etc. that same feeling came over me. I have prayed night and day for my son to recover and he has recovered – still not who he was before – but he is recovering, yet the person who hurt him, I pray that he recovers, I pray that all the attention given this crime will make his assailant understand what he did. Its plainly obvious that if the races in this were reversed, a loud cry would go out to have the person charged with a hate crime, but in this new 'enlightened era', that doesn't apply to crimes against white people. And so I pray, for my son and his attacker.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Kate

      I am truly sorry for your son. It is unforgivable. I hope you can find peace in some way.. I hope your son can continue to recover. Ignorance is not bliss. Again many caring thoughts sent your way. I have 2 sons and this would be something so horrible.. it is not fair or right.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • RR

      Praying for your son's assailant is a noble thing, I'm sure. But the crook has as much possibility of becoming a good person as I have of waking up as an Einstein tomorrow. It's possible, but highly highly improbable. People's natures and intellectual structure are burned into the connections of their brains, through genetics, upbringing and their society.

      Im glad the crooks are behind bars. Im glad your son is getting better. It would have been best if the incident hadn't happened at all..

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

      Keeping praying for th attacker you FOOL! he will do it again to someone else !

      February 3, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  5. sosickofgod

    yep..forgive the killer..because GOD would..HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAA ......plane and simple..you murder someone..the victims family can do to you what you did..end of story..god = violence ,wars,disasters,hatred,stupidity..narrowminded people looking to believe in SOMETHING to cure fear of death or of life..there is no god jesus was a filthy poor carpenter who probably was a massage therapist who healed a knot in someones scapula and now hes a healer..TAKE GOD OUT OF SCHOOLS..OFF OUR CURRENCY.Wake up people..smh

    February 3, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • Davey

      You too have a purpose. This isn't necessarily it though.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:58 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      it's sad that you can get so hard that you can think the way you do how can you looking at nature and see the live that is in it and not believe their isn't a God

      February 3, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • JWT

      Nature is beautiful – no god is needed to see that.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  6. Rabs

    Cold blooded Murder = death penalty. period.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  7. alligatorob

    I am glad Ms Bishop is finding some peace in dealing with the awful loss of her sister and family, it must have been hard to write this. Unfortunately I cannot agree with her position. I don't think this has anything to do with forgiveness, it is just plain public safety. We can never be certain that a person who has committed the crime Biro did will ever be safe on our streets, no matter what the parole boards or others say some one like this is a risk to public safety. I am more comfortable knowing the David Biros of the world will never get the chance to do it again.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • janemutiny

      I thoroughly agree. This writer's religious beliefs are not going to protect the next person this sociopath decides to kill.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  8. bankrupt1

    well written. but still a little naive. some people are born without a conscience. and some people are predators. they belong in a box. that's hard to take. but its real. they don't grow one and you can't shame them into having one. they were simply born without it. and if you were born without one and went off killing people, you would want someone to save you from yourself too. its not about god. and if it is, a god would be more humane to them too. don't let them out. read the sociopath next door . i think you are talking more about psychopath, but you'll get the concept. obviously these are case by case situations. but don't take what the preacher says too literally.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • bankrupt1

      they could make them more homelike or something, but i don't see letting them out. again, depends on the case, but that case sounds severe.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:42 am |
  9. Kate

    "that Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, equally beloved and equally fallen. O’Brien" this is where she loses me, in the beginning.. but I think and applaud her caring of young people, I believe that people can rehabilitate and some/a lot can't. I am not the judge, it's her loved sister and her family that were murdered. But I don't believe we are fallen, I believe there are crazies.. I don't believe in supernatural mumbo jumbo blah blah, but I support this woman's right to believe in it, and I support her with my heart. I would never want to be in this situation. jesus/god is a powerful healer in the minds and hearts of people who just cannot understand their situation and they need peace. I admire this woman greatly.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      there is only two unseen beings God and the devil God changed her heart that is way she was able to forgive When the devil has your heart you can't understand that the devil cause that boy to do that and then he will leave him with the guilt if you ever stand in God's presence it is hard to not be like her when people was more God fearing you didn't see the things you see today

      February 3, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Eddie
      Didn't your god create satan, knowing full well the consequences? So isn't your god to blame?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • RR

      Eddie, you have a very very weak god. He's incapable of even punishing Satan, knowing that the guy is destroying untold numbers of lives.

      Either that or he doesnt *want* to punish Satan and imprison him, and wants him to continue destroying untold lives. In that case your god is a psychopathic criminal and deserves to be in a human prison.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Matthew

      yeah things were a lot more peaceful during the "god fearing" days of the Inquisition and Crusades

      February 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  10. bob

    its obvious that this has taken its toll on her, and has driven her to pure ignorance. I don't believe in a sentence of life without the possiblity of parole, or even a life sentence for that fact, because I don't see the need to punish the working public by using tax dollars to cage you, but I would approve the tax money to buy the bullet to put in your head.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:39 am |
    • Kate

      Fair enough.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • JWT

      Life in prison is cheaper than the death penalty bob.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Davey

      I have to disagree. It hasn't made her ignorant on the subject of the death penalty or her feelings for little Davey Brio. She in fact has more courage and less hate, for me and my peers that causes a tick upwards in the intelligence quotient.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  11. nammajamma

    As much as I sympathize with Ms. Bishop's quest to make peace with the terrible loss she has suffered, it's not in her place to forgive the man who took her sister's life. The only people qualified to do that were murdered in cold blood.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:39 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      it is her job to get out of her heart the bitterness it is God's job to dill with what happen when i stand before judgement i hope that God can say he forgive everybody that done anything to him i am going to forgive him that is my wish there is no option for me to think other wise i told a man that word for me he didn't believe in God i said can i ask you a question he said ok i said if we get to the end and you are right what do you have that i don't he said nothing i said that is right (but) if i am right then you are in for a lot of hurt so the worst thing could happen to me is to end up like you that is not and option for me

      February 3, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • janemutiny

      "if we get to the end and you are right what do you have that i don't"
      A beautiful life of integrity lived without delusion, grounded in reality.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  12. TeddyX

    The idiot deserved the death penalty. Also, this Baptist preacher preach's that a person who take the life of another should not have it's life taken away from them but should be shown love and forgiveness, treat them like a hero. Big reason why im not a Baptist anymore, They say criminals should get a fre pass

    February 3, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  13. Sid Airfoil

    This woman is obviously in a difficult situation. She is forced to choose between forgiving her sister's killer and living out her life in anger. My impression is that she realized that being angry for the rest of her life is not healthy, but that the only way to move forward (for her, at least) was to turn to religion. Religion allows her to assign a higher purpose and meaning to her forgiveness: "Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, equally beloved and equally fallen". In this context, forgiving a killer is god's will, and thus is easier to do than it would be if she had no external validation for doing it. While I sympathize with her situation, as an atheist, I can't help but see her as a troubled woman (understandably so) who is using religious mythology to manipulate her own emotions so she can move on. I sincerely hope that she can give up her anger, but I wish she could do so without convincing herself that there is a god out there who wants her to.

    Sid

    February 3, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • Rome

      Ah sid, well said. I tried to put it like that but I think I came out sounding rude haha. I wish many many people could do it without convincing themselves there is a god. Especially since so many have different views of what there god wants.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Rob

      Spot on Sid, absolutely 100% spot on.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Foxhole Atheist

      Well said. My sentiments exactly.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • Kate

      Hello, I feel exactly the way you do about this woman.. I admire her and feel great sadness for her.. this is her way of coping and while I am a true atheist I cannot slam any religious person who finds solace in their supernatural being who helps them cope.. how to make sense in something so senseless, so evil, so sick. she found a way.. I don't think I would find this way, but it is her way.. As long as religious people do not force me to think their way then I respect them and their coping mechanism, it's lonely in knowing there is nothing after this, but it does propel one to try and live a live of peace, harmony and love (albeit that is hard to say the least). I wish peace for this woman, whatever way she finds it, to forgive is very VERY freeing. I send many loving vibes this womans way. I am glad I've not had to walk in her path. She is to be admired.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Kate

      I agree with you, but I cannot help but be happy that she has somehow been able to continue her life, have children and be at peace. I don't believe in God or the devil blah blah.. but if it helps her, I will not be mad, my hope only is that people who feel that god is their salvation, hope, security and peace don't make ME believe it. I believe in leading a good life, sharing what I have, loving my sons, being a good neighbor, voting as I see fit and dying at peace in knowing I tried to lead a good life. I cannot place who I am in the hands of a supernatural being created out of fears of a people living thousands of years ago, people who tried to make sense out of things they did not understand, we understand a lot today.. BUT as I said, I feel for this woman and hope her peace propels her in the rest of her life to do good. It's a sad story.. I know many have sad stories.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • janemutiny

      This is all well and good, but her belief system is promoting the idea that this person should/could be unleashed back onto society. The writer's religious beliefs will do nothing to protect the next innocent person this psychopath decides to thrill kill. Her magical thinking also is comfortable equating her innocent sister with a sociopathic murderer. No, they are not "equally fallen", and to think that is not only delusional, but foolish. Human beings need accurate judgement to be safe in a complex world.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  14. Matthew

    Wasn't there recently a case where a man who murdered his grandmother was released then killed his sister then set the house on fire and then killed a couple of firemen who showed up? If Justice according to the bible – you know and "eye for an eye" would of been followed then he would of not been released to kill more innocent people. Just a thought....

    February 3, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Kate

      yes, in upstate New York. very sad.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Yes...this happened 5 miles from my house, saw the smoke that day.
      Justice and the bible are supposed to be kept seperate in this country.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  15. eddieb

    Great story and true you see her healing began when she forgave the killer. weather or not the killer will get better is now in Gods hands. Its that simple we seem to complicate the truth it is a simple process. But a hard one to follow if you can understand that the answer is simple to apply the answer is tough. forgiveness is something I would like to get better at.....

    February 3, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • NClaw441

      I'd only quibble with your statement, Eddie that it is only in God's hands. It is also in the hands of the killer to repent and seek the forgiveness God will give him. The killer controls that, not God. God gives each of us the choice.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Baffled

      What is tough to understand is what you just wrote. Try using punctuation to separate your thoughts.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  16. CatieB.

    Yes, we do need to forgive, otherwise we will be held in bondage to the offender. But, like so many others have said, people need to pay the earthly consequences for their actions. Jesus did forgive the REPENTANT criminal on the cross. He said, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." However, Jesus did not intervene with this man's earthly sentence. He had to pay the price for his earthly actions. I wish the author and her family peace.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • Kate

      very nicely written. thank you.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Liu

      Very well said. I agree with you.

      February 4, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  17. soxfaninatl

    @Joe
    The fact that you've wandered into the religion blog leads me to believe you don't fully believe what you state. You are likely disgruntled about something in your own life. You might wish to seek some counseling, along with the other lurking atheist trolls, because this should be none of your concern if you practice what you preach.

    Excellent post my friend. I have never understood why atheists and agnostics feel they need to read and comment about posts on any kind of religious blog, Obviously we are not going to change their heats, minds and views and neither will they change ours so why do they bother? The reason is they are not truly convinced themselves and they want to be changed.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense. This is not a "religion blog", no matter how many times you repeat it.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • NClaw441

      Midwest, but it is a belief blog, which is better, in my view.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • midwest rail

      Agreed, Nc – but still a significant difference.

      February 3, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • RR

      Its on CNN's front page. Most people who came here didn't realize its a religion blog - they just clicked on a CNN link.

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

    She is forgiving towards the boy who killed her sister, yet trivializes the people who must make the actual choices regarding whom shall be forgiven (and get another chance to harm us or not), and whom shall continue to be punished, by calling them "bureaucrats." Ma'am, I sympathize over your tremendous loss, but your compassions are misplaced.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  19. concerned

    I am a strong Catholic, and I struggle with the same thoughts Miss Bishop has. But we also have an obligation to protect society from the same violence that took her sister. Because of some mental illnesses, not all patient's can be cured to the point of re-entering the daily challenges of life. Forgive them, yes, even see that they get the help needed, but be cautious, because not all violence can be reversed. Yes, God loves all his children, but he still said, Thou shall not kill.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  20. Oh Well

    Forgiveness is NOT the erasure of the Debt and the least understood part of this. In this case forgiveness if for her benefit only. Some are beyond redemption and lost. Lucky for us, they are few but they exist. Forgiveness at this level requires a power greater than yourself and a life altering experience. The Universe has very good ways to deal with this. Its beyond us. I struggle daily for forgive my alcoholic father and what he did to our family. but that is my battle.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:27 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.