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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. Akiras December son of a gun

    I got nuthin'

    February 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • December

      Just a mistake. Or a different December than I.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  2. J. Mark Lane

    One of the most powerful and beautifully written pieces I think I've ever read. I'm not even going to read the comments, because as a lawyer who has spent two decades opposing the death penalty, I know what they will be like, and I don't need to hear it (again). Stay the course.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • End Religion

      I'm curious, why do lawyers, with almost no exception, have the worst looking web sites? The average dentist's office web site is better. The average "life coach" has a better web site than most lawyers. I just don't get it. The average lawyer's web site is rarely more impressive than the average Heating & Cooling or Plumber's web site. Could you talk to some of the folks in your industry and get them to loosen up on the purse strings a little? Your web site is you most important piece of marketing. It doesn't do your firm any good to have a site that looks like your nephew Stevie made it for you, in fact it could be detrimental.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • J. Mark Lane

      Well that's nice, thank you for looking. I have never really felt that our website did much of anything, all of our business comes from word of mouth and referrals. I generally won't even take cold calls and don't much care if no one even ever sees the website. Marketing has never been something I cared about or seemed to need (knock on wood). That said, our website is awful and is currently being re-written. And btw, ending religion is a totalitarian notion that has failed everywhere it has been attempted.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      I just wanted to prove that when you said, "I'm not even going to read the comments" that you were lying. Thank you, counselor.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  3. woodie

    I do not believe a murderer can be rehabilitated. We don't want them walking the earth. They need to be put down so the world can move forward. Our society does not have time to piddle with these people and they are a danger to everyone living.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      woodie, I can see you have put some extra special thought into this.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      What you believe is irrelevant, and also false. Proven countless times. Involving the state in yet another murder is the answer to nothing.
      As far as gun control goes. The Founders had no clue that assault , and repeating weapons, would be invented. Even the MOST conservative Supreme Court judges say we have the right to what is "reasonable". Nothing more. Nothing less. No one has the right to mechanized assault weapons, with multiple repeating magazines, just because someone invented something, and called it a gun.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • dante

      I understand how forgiveness can be cathartic when hatred is consuming a person, but we can't allow this maniac back on the streets...forgiving murderers may be the healthier alternative, but it's NOT a reason to put society at-risk...

      February 3, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  4. JM

    Amen

    February 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  5. December

    Which one is a Doug?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Akira

      Oh, wasn't I clear?
      You are Philip Douglas, aka Douglas (Doug), aka BurningMan, aka Ignorance is Bliss. Many personas, all liars, one man.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • December

      No.

      Maybe somebody else is posting as "December". I just started posting a couple days ago, but also posted some last month.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I can just envision "December" batting his eyes: "Who, little ol' me?"

      February 3, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      Doug did it!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Akira

      Yes.
      You're IP doesn't lie, sweetheart, even if you do.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • Akira

      Tom, Tom: can you envision gay coitus boy doing that? They're the same person.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • December

      Yea, not me. I haven't had a conversation with the 3 people who've called me Doug. I'm confused, but oh well.

      Since you claim you have my ip, can you tell me what city or which internet service I'm posting this from today.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • Akira

      Yes, I can most certainly tell you what city. You will, of course, lie, but you're in Colorado Springs.

      Why you and your insipid little girlfriend keep trying to deny this, and even worse, keep trying to "test" me, is beyond me.
      There are two people here that I keep busting; you and Mary; you both keep lying, fade away, and come back as another persona, lather, rinse, repeat.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • Doug

      whats up?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • December

      You are wrong, I'm in KC. But I use a mobile device that has a Colorado area code.

      I can even show you a post from Friday that proves I live in KC.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  6. Eric

    @Akira
    Am I to understand that lol?? is NOT posting in irony? I thought for sure...

    February 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • End Religion

      it's hard to tell. Typically that user is a crazed religious nutter, however anyone can use any name and so you never know if it is that user of someone posing as him.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • midwest rail

      All of this evening's lol?? rants appear to be his own.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Akira

      Eric:
      I doubt that tonight's lol?? was being ironic at all; I think midwest rail is correct.
      Little lol?? uses pure snark as its main way to proselytize and "spread the...um...word".

      February 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • mama k

      I believe that is correct, Akira

      February 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  7. jkantor267

    And so the next 16-year-old gets a green light. But the real ones to blame are the kids mother and father(s).

    February 3, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  8. John

    I want there to be no systemized process of justice. Just publicly announce the names and crimes of the guilty and let them out on the streets of this country. We will all learn the face of immediate justice. Stop protecting the criminals from society.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      John did it!!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I knew a guy named John. He took one of my best guitars. Bastard lied about it. I don't really care for people named John. I bet you look like him. Don't you John? Where do you live?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Newman

      With Chicago's horrid crime stats, Ms. Bishop might have something. Apologize to all of the juvenile murderers, set them free, give them their guns back, and tell them where Ms. Bishop lives so they can visit and thank her.......

      February 3, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Akira

      Newman.
      The family is from Winnetka.
      Not Chicago.
      She may work in Chicago, but then, so do many people from the neighboring suburbs, including many from Northwest Indiana.

      Although she IS outta her mind for wanting to free this sociopath.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  9. question

    Did the killer look like he could be Obama's son?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  10. Walter Kane

    Just give him "THE JUICE" . Why waste all our tax dollars on him for the next 25years or less?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  11. A. Einstein

    These animals don't deserve forgiveness or life in prison. They deserve a bullet between the eyes and their bodies throw in the local dump.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Doy.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Forgiveness helps the wronged, not the criminal. But I agree with your second point. Find the nearest tree, string him up now and save the state money.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • frank

      But would it go with the recyclables or no?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  12. Free Nuts

    For creationist

    February 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  13. Mohammad A Dar

    and what would be her CNN story when the same "16-year-old with a history of violence" comes out on bail, and shoots some school kids? Let me guess her CNN story headline "we have to love him, because God made him for a purpose [of killing]"

    February 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      God did made him for a porpoise, Mohammad A Dar. He should not be imprisoned. He should be taken to SeaWorld where he can use his killing skills to liberate his friend and perhaps other marine mammals.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  14. AjaDiamond

    God may have said to love and forgive everyone, but where did he say that it was okay to commit murder and not be held accountable? Of course, if he does get out, I'm sure you'll have no problem hiring him to babysit your children.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  15. Austin

    The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.""

    February 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      And the doctors of today would say he was afflicted with schizophrenia and grandiose delusions.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • John

      When God predicts things in advance, and you see it happen after... that's when you realize that God is well beyond human comprehension. We live within the restriction of time, he is not bound by it. Anyone fighting against God, is doomed.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • End Religion

      John, I predicted what I would have for dinner last night and lo and behold it came true. Am I a god?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • John

      Ignorance is bliss, right ER? I know God is the most incredible being in existence, ever. So it doesn't surprize me at all that he turns his back on those that reject him... leaving them confused and blind to his existence. It is an absolute honor to know him.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • End Religion

      How do you know, John?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • John

      ER, through what God said. And just like all the witnesses over history, you will deny them all, because God being there, is not what you want. You neither want God to be there, or to do what he said to do. So no matter what someone tells you now, or over thousands of years ago in the past, nothing is good enough, and God will continue to turn away from you, as you do to him. You got what you wanted, and so did he.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Austin

      because you just know, and it is awesome. The angels in heaven fear God and they conclude "our God is an awesome God!"

      February 3, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • End Religion

      You say you know, John. How do you know? "Witnesses over history" don't tell me anything about how *you* know. Did you receive an email from god? Did he appear in a dream? Did he interrupt your TV programming? Do you get a boner when singing in church? How do you know god exists?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Austin

      that was not an appropriate comment.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • John

      ER, when was the last time you heard someone tell you they would love to have their weeds and thisles be the best ever grown? I have never heard anyone say that. So when God says he doesn't want those, but to let them alone and walk away, I tend to agree with him. Because if you didn't want him to be there in the first place, and didn't want to do what he said to do, he certainly doesn't want to have you tended to any further than you are now. You have chapter after chapter to work with, and you reject it as nonsense. I have that, and much more, and I thank God for all he's done, for those that believe him.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • End Religion

      Ah, so you're saying a book, which we know is fraudulent, is your secret message from god? And he's talking to you about thistles? This would be a god we're supposedly talking about? And your best evidence is fiction and weeds? Do I have that right?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  16. Just sayin'

    So just let the rest of us twist in the wind when you let this sociopath out, because YOU have had a change of heart? I haven't. I still want my kids to live. I am sorry for your loss, but this is not something that would affect the greater good.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  17. Marilyn

    How about "an eye for an eye"?

    February 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • lol??

      Progressives don't believe in payin' debts. They just pass em on like in the game of Old Maid.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • Akira

      Um, hey, both of you? Illinois no longer has the DP. Prolly because the 'progressives' found some death row inmates that have been exonerated before their execution through DNA.
      Oh, those pesky "progressives" just being a killjoy for all of those uptight upright citizens...

      February 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  18. Christine

    I disagree. Kids who commit such horrific murders should face the same punishment as anyone. It's unlikely that they can be reformed. To allow them EVER into the general public is too dangerous. Forget about a second chance. Keep them behind bars where they belong. And that doesn't mean that one cannot FORGIVE what they have done. That's a private issue...but do NOT assume they can ever be reformed. They may put on a good show but eventually, they'll feel the urge to kill again...especially a guy like this one, who showed zero remorse and was glad about what he had done.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Saraswati

      There have been a few cases where 6 and 8 year olds killed, and in many cases the act was spontaneous they will still make fine adults. But the sad truth is a 16 year old who was without the empathy to restrain from killing has a very high odds of being an adult who will kill. Unless we can offer a safe way to either monitor such people in the community of a real treatment they do need to be kept of the street.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  19. mrbadabing

    I tend to think, (as a Christian) this woman is naive to think that there should be no life sentences. While your ability to forgive is impressive, there is no reason to put the rest of society at risk of what these criminals might do when released again. Just because the offended forgives doesn't mean the offender has repented and changed their life.

    I'm glad this person can be free of the hatred, the pain, etc. I wish I could have that towards people who've harmed my life. I forgive for a while, and then I take it back again. It's a cycle in my life I can't seem to end, but it's reality for me and I think it might be for others as well.

    Whatever this woman does, I don't need her going around trying to get laws changed!

    February 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • lol??

      Hopey changey. It's da commie mommie way, errr Hindu way.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • chalie16

      LOL??...thanks for being an ******* and bringing politics into this discussion. GFY buddy.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Ericj

      @lol?? – You are an idiot. You should keep your mouth-breather thoughts (I am being generous calling them that) to yourself.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • lol??

      Bishop ain't a pol? She's from Chitown and spreading her doctrines. A woeman named Bishop? Don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humour.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • midwest rail

      No, she is not from Chicago. Try again.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • lol??

      OK, third rail, quit playin' games and tell the people where Bishop is "from". In Illinois the little girly men in the black robes know what a resident is so he can be mayor. What good is a law if you can't break it?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Winnetka, dooshnozzle. Anyone with 3rd grade reading comprehension knows that, but that apparently leaves you out. Try again.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • lol??

      Explain her affinity to the mob, if she has moolah. Needs more?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • midwest rail

      You're good at innuendo and short on facts, as always. Try again.

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

      When the mob does away with the death penalty it's because they are afraid of being caught. It also makes em popular in the slammer, when they're not "lucky". How's that for innuendo?

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

      Just fine. Your standard delusional ramblings. Well done.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • lol??

      Your love for Elder Bishop is evident. Now what's the name of the bride?

      February 3, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Sorry, C.L., never met the woman. Try again.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  20. lol??

    "1Ti 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

    February 3, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • annier

      BIOYA.......

      February 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • December

      Context is very important. Paul is writing about a particular, special instance. He is writing about some disruptive women who were influenced by false teachings. Not all women.

      There are other verses that support women in ministry.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • Eric

      I wonder if I could pick any one line from your list of life quotes and paste it here in such a way that would seem very embarrassing, convicting, etc. to you.

      In real estate they say location, location, location. In biblical hermeneutics it's context, context, context.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • End Religion

      Doug, it is important to realize your bible is fiction. That really puts it into context.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • lol??

      Methodist Inc'd preacher?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • lol??

      Obedience is holy. "Gen 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

      February 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • December

      Who is Doug?

      Some of the stories in the Bible are fiction, yes. In addition to stories, there is genealogy, poetry, songs, words of wisdom and history.

      It helps to know that.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Eric

      @End Religion
      The grass is red. (I've just made a statement of equivalence).

      February 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Akira

      Lol, you are, hands down, the WORST proponent for Christianity.
      You do FAR more harm with your "messages" than anyone else I've seen proselytize.
      You should really re-think your style.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Akira !! I LOVE his style ! The old fashioned misogyny, the holier-than-thou self-righteousness, the pseudo-intellectual writing style – he's perfect !

      February 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Akira

      I'll take that answer to End Religion...you are Philip Douglas, you are Mary's little BF, you are sitting outside of an office building in Colorado Springs, stealing their Wi-Fi, (although I guess it cannot be truly stealing if they don't use a password for their system), and you are another liar who has been outed, just like your alter-ego 'Douglas' of the gay-coitus fame.
      You both are well-known liars on other blogs, most notably 'This Just In'; I do not know WHY you would ever think that other people here do not comment there, also.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Akira

      Midwest rail, I envision lol as an old, scrappy, fire and brimstone kinda person...you know, of the snake handling sort.
      If lol IS a he, he beats his wife, guaranteed...that if he's married, which I doubt.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Eric

      @Akira
      Am I to understand that lol?? is NOT posting in irony? I thought for sure...

      February 3, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • lol??

      No Eric. it just shows how far you have progressed, iron man. Bbbbbbwwwwaaahahahahaha

      February 4, 2013 at 12:51 am |
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About this blog

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.