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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. diana

    Hmmm...I suppose God made Hitler for a purpose as well. I feel sorry for this woman and all people who think this way. Frankly, I would go mad if I thought for one second that there is a purpose to anything and that a god is up there calling the shots in his mysterious way. I find solace believing there couldn't possibly be a plan behind the horrific acts of evil humans. I also find the concept of someone escaping death because God was watching over him or her impulsively selfish and cruel.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Edweird69

      Agreed! The Xtian god is supposedly perfect...and this is the best "plan" he could come up with? Really?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  2. ysrarty

    do you believe in hell? then i god should abolish hell. these things make no sense.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  3. goHelper

    People who genuinely confess the wrongs they have committed and repent of them should be forgiven. However, according to my Bible, in Matthew 13:37-39, there are children of God and children of the devil on this earth. You will know them by their fruit. Charles Manson is an example of one of Satan's children, I wouldn't want him let loose.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  4. Jason MacDonald

    Ma'am, I understand that you feel grief beyond anything you were meant to endure. There is something you must understand, however: your sister's death, and that of her husband and unborn child were nothing more to this man than a moment's entertainment. Forgiveness by God is something only He can bestow- and IF He does, it has no bearing on the punishment David Brio faces on Earth. He can NEVER be let out, nor anyone like him; he is too dangerous, and the risk to society is too great. You have my sympathy, but you do not have my support.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Hez316

      I think the forgiveness is from her alone otherwise that hatred stays with her for life and is to her detriment,not his That doesn't mean justice can't be served by a life sentence. One would think that a judge would need to be convinced that this man would not harm anyone else which might be a tall order

      February 3, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  5. another idiot with a keyboard

    its all in a name

    February 3, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  6. jackie

    A person who kills for the reason he stated cannot be let out! He is evil. The pastor told you to pray for him....my God woman...open your eyes and quit rationalizing. This man did an evil thing.....he needs to be removed. I am truly sorry for your pain and perhaps you have just tired of hating him. But it does NOT remove what he did and the reasons behind what he did.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  7. Jack

    This person is misguided. If you believe in Christianity, then forgiveness should be of the utmost important to you and you should pray for you enemies. However, this doesnt mean attempting to release a killer into the public because you have a guilty conscience. This person compares herself to Paul, which is ridiculous. Her plight and Paul's life are nothing alike. Paul hunted Christians for a living and was struck blind on his way to Damascus. God said he would make Paul suffer for his name's sake and he used Paul to deliver the message of Christ to gentiles all the way up to Ceasar. This woman supporting a law that keeps criminals locked and Paul's journey are not even close or in the same ballpark. Frankily, I find it uphalling that someone would use religion to attempt to set free a killer to satisify their conscience and put my family, my children, my community, and myself at risk.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  8. Scott Battles

    Believe what you desire, forgive yes, hate eats the soul from the inside out. Forget, hell no. the reality is the killer is a Sociopaths and will kill again. Live in peace or rest in peace or pieces.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  9. Besso

    This article makes sense if you can buy into the concept of God as she proposes. Many do. If she feels 'healed' by praying for her sister's killer and that adds meaning and purpose to her life... so be it. However, I do not believe that method of healing can be translated to everybody. Personally given her situation I would be better served if the killer was removed from society permanently. True sociopaths are rarely reformed though some would like to believe in the redeeming power of God.
    I always found it perplexing that an all knowing and benevolent God could have thrown Adam and Eve out of Eden for one infraction and damn those to Hell that don't accept his Son. And how long are those punishments for???? Forever.
    An infinite punishment for a finite crime. In some ways the author of this article shows much more benevolence then the God she worships.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  10. pat

    She hasn't rid her life of anger, she only puts a mask over it. She should be glad he got put away, and he should stay behind bars forever more. Get real, you don't help yourself with all this God therapy.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • viewfrombeneaththebridge

      The responses here are fascinating and most are error riddled from nearly every perspective imaginable. The world, and especially the United States, needs more Jeanne Bishops and less "realists". Its the realist perception that has built the violent, lunatic society we dwell in, not Jeanne Bishop's values and perspective. David Biro may get out, and he may never get out. That isn't the issue in a discussion of values.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  11. The Truth Will Prevail

    But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father (God) forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15....
    That shows such a mature heart filled with wisdom. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. May the Lord bless you in your journey.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  12. Wyatt

    She did write in the peace that she hopes the guy who killed her sister will one day be well enough to be released. Use your active reading skills, people. I hope this story is read and shared all over the world. The power of God is real. It will make you love your enemies and want absolutely nothing but the best for them. This story has been a blessing to me this morning. Thank you for sharing it, Mrs. Bishop.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  13. Robert Edward

    We actually need to make the punishment for any felony a life sentence because it's not like anyone with a felony can get a job when they get out...not in the information age where anyone can do a background check online for $2.95. They get released, can't get work...what do you guys think the result of that is???

    February 3, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • viewfrombeneaththebridge

      Within our Community Service activity, we are dealing with that issue specifically in attempting to help several younger people build better opportunity for themselves. One young man, even with a college degree he worked hard to get following his release, was ruled out of job after job because of a serious felony conviction. He works as a janitor for a sympathetic bar/restaurant owner. Another 26 year old female is a 20 hour a week Dairy Queen employee after nearly two years of looking for full time employment. She has no extended jail or prison time, just the convictions. What we have created regarding felony convictions is far harsher on the individual after serving their time then the jail or prison sentence itself.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  14. TGO

    I stopped reading at "equally fallen". Normally I loathe these religious articles, and I guess this one is no different. I will never ever believe that the murderer's life is just as valuable as a good person's. A good person who had many good things to accomplish over the years of a life cut short by his simple curiosity to commit murder. I also don't believe forgiveness and all its cliches are what they are cracked up to be. Sure, by all means, let this woman forgive the brutal murder of her family and pray for this degenerate's wellness. Perhaps she can work and advocate for his release and take him under her wing, in her home. Seems the appropriate thing here. Good luck and I wish you well in that endeavor.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • James

      I am also an atheist. I don't believe in a religious reason for anything. I do believe in a Humanitarian reason. This boy was obviously deranged and misguided for reason that are not explained in the article. It may be mental illness, it may be an abusive parent. Or maybe he was bullied in school. Whatever reason, he was able to obtain a killing machine, called a gun. These killing machines are readily available for purchase by both sane and insane, law-biding and criminal. It's called money. The seller has no culpability for what that killing machine is used for. CHANGE THIS LAW NOW!!!!!!!!!!!! Less guns will mean less tragedies for this World. NRA would disagree and say everyone should own a killing machine. That would only multiply the tragedies, regrets and heart break already an epidemic across this country. STOP IT NOW!!!!!!

      February 3, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  15. Brenda

    Sometimes people are sociopaths and have no social redeeming value.

    A sixteen year old KNOWS IT IS WRONG TO MURDER PEOPLE. Lets stop acting like 16 year olds are somehow toddlers. My goodness, 50 years ago many quit school, got married, and had full time jobs at age 16. PLEASE STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR THESE MURDERERS. A 16 YEAR OLD KNOWS MURDER IS WRONG. ALL OF THEM DO.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:03 am |
    • Howard

      They do know...and should punished likewise. Immediately when found guilty, should have been sent to jail for good. No appeals,no chance to get out. In cold blooded cases like this one he should hang,period. Maybe the next nutcase will think a little before taking a life.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:25 am |
  16. Notevangelical

    For the believer, forgiveness is not optional. I look at it this way: I forgive so that I can let go of the hatred and anger that will eventually destroy me. Forgiveness does not make what that other person did OK. It makes it possible for me to get on with my life. Somehow, our system of justice needs to recognize that repentance and rehabilitation are possible. That being said, actions have consequences, and the old line, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time" is still true. Last but not least, the teaching that starts with the premise that everyone is a child of God, and that we are all sinners and therefore equal in the eyes of God is the oldest and most orthodox Christian doctrine of all. Teaching that we who call ourselves Christian need to remember that, and live it in our daily lives is basic. In the end, the desire to harm someone as repayment for the harm they did us is the normal, human, fallen response. The Godly response is to find a way to love and forgive. As I said before, forgiveness doesn't make what they did OK. It makes it possible for me to get rid of the anger and hatred that will destroy me.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  17. Sid Airfoil

    There is an interesting Church/State issue implicit in this issue. Although this killer may deserve forgiveness, that doesn't mean he deserves to be released from prison. Forgiveness of SINS is between him and his god, but forgiveness of CRIMES is between him and civil society, and Separation of Church and State dictates that two are not related. Indeed, forgiveness/mercy is the opposite of justice. I have no problem if god forgives him and lets him into heaven when he dies, but he should die in prison.

    Sid

    February 3, 2013 at 7:59 am |
  18. empresstrudy

    She should adopt and/or marry him.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  19. Namje*

    If u believe god u also believe his word and if u dont believe his word u are not his. for as many that r led by the spirit of god , these are the sons of god. this is the truth quit making excuses for yourselves. You are not his unless you are also crucified with christ and live in spirit and truth

    February 3, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  20. mom2homer

    I'm an atheist. I agree that we shouldn't lock children up for life. If belief in a god is what it takes for you to figure that out, more power to you.

    February 3, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • Scott Battles

      If a 16 year old is kills two individuals for fun, he s damn well old enough to face the consequences. Setting free a sociopath killer is stupidity! Some things are not fixable nor should be tried, the human cost far outweighs the benefit.

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

      When I was 16 I knew better than to sluaghter an entire family for pure enjoyment. This monster should have been put down long ago.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:41 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.