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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. The Dude

    fry the SOB.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Edweird69

      I'd love to agree with you. Just that...killing him would make us..like him. Just knowing he will never be loose is good enough for me. Teenagers are numb to violence (certainly not all...just being a little dramatic), but notice how many young people kill anymore?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  2. Forgiven

    Amen and thank you, Jeanne! What a wonderful testimony to the grace that Jesus gives us everyday!

    February 3, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Edweird69

      It's repulsive! The very thought of turning that little monster loose on society, is totally repulsive. Talk about setting a time bomb to explode on the innocent !!

      February 3, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • JJ

      It IS repulsive. If believing in this mythical ghost named "Jesus" makes one work for the release of the cold killer of your family then someone needs to slap reason back into you.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Mike

      Amen...And Amen!!!!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  3. Melanie Bush

    This person killed because he wanted to feel what it was like to kill someone. This person killed and joked and laughed about it. Why would anyone not want to keep this person locked up for the rest of their lives. I am sorry, but that is just ridiculous. I hope he never gets out. I don't care if he was a child or not. I don't want to him to be around me or my family.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  4. Paolo

    Jeanne,

    I have also had family members murdered and if able to do so legally, would happily dispatch them myself. Forgiveness is fine but the nature of the monster that killed your family members still lives in that piece of human garbage. Leave him to rot.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  5. diana

    This woman is delusional, as most people who believe in God are. Think about what she is really saying. The crap about being born with a God-designed purpose and therefore a valid reason to forgive this killer and let him go free is utterly idiotic.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Edweird69

      Yep. I never understood the "god must have a reason" mentality...when obviously a supposed perfect deity could come up with a much gentler plan. It's baffling isn't it?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  6. Aurora11

    Where the writer loses me is the point at which she says, "Nancy's killer and I are both children of God." She may be a child of God but, make no mistake, based on the scenario she described, her sister's killer is a child of the devil/Satan/whatever someone chooses to call God's opposing "power". She can forgive whomever she chooses to forgive any time for anything, including her sister's murderer, but she is comparing apples and oranges here.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      But didn't your god create satan, knowing the consequences. That would make it gods fault.

      It makes it a lot easier to understand when you remove the myths entirely, and realize this kid is mentally ill, and needs to be removed from society.
      No need to blame your god , or your gods creation.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  7. akismet-44a8ca8105e8092b4b1a0af75fa4f58d

    Ignorance masquerading as piety.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Edweird69

      Agreed. Blind faith does some very strange things, doesn't it?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Matt

      Exactly!!!

      February 3, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • JJ

      This woman has given up reason for religous delusions. Any belief system that can do this is most repugnant. Of course, Christianity if full of this kind of thinking and is based on it as well.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  8. rs1201

    criminals depend on people like this author to get what they want. This juvenile monster should have gotten the electric chair or a lethal injection. He's not someone who deserves to live. I certainly could not forgive someone like that. I would do everything I can to keep him in the most miserable of prisons under the most miserable of conditions....and that still would not be enough!

    February 3, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  9. Angela

    Thank you for sharing your story of forgiveness. I am shocked by many of the negative comments. I think you say clearly that you want it to be possible for him to get out IF he is ready – but he is not yet. Of course you would want to have him locked up for as long as he could be any threat to society, but IF he repents and turns his life around, he should be able to have a chance to be free. This is the reason I am against the death penalty as well: We need to give criminals, even the most atrocious ones – a chance to repent, as long as we can keep others save from them until they do. All of us that pray the Our Father promise this forgiveness: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

    February 3, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Melanie Bush

      Our comments are negative. We just don't pretend to be more pious than everyone else by forgiving someone who murdered our sister and her husband because he wanted to feel how it felt. Sorry, but that is crazy. Not only that it dishonors her sister, husband, and unborn child and everyone else for that matter because it is saying she is placing her forgiveness above everyone else's safety.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Edweird69

      @Melanie – agreed! Spot on!!

      February 3, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  10. maxmaxwell

    That's real nice you found forgiveness, and real nice you can confront your feelings, if this happened to me, that teen would find out a lot more then he has. People like you destroy the fabric of our society one step at a time, we have laws in place and it's the people like you who we trust as a licensed professional no less, with the charge of enforcing those laws and rules, yet here you are, " Ohhh the world is still ok, and I have found a higher calling" well whoopteedo. The rest of us can suffer knowing the likes of our legal profession is so bent on destroying society, we can all look forward to a teen braking into our homes, assaulting us, knowing life will give the perp a second chance, free education, and free cheese while we get to put flowers on the grave of our lost ones, ohhh thank god you have made violent crime understandable today by your words, if I was living in your state I would challenge your right to practice law, have you retested on the bar, and limit your practice to the ticket clinic, you my dear are a loser.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Yes, she's at peace with it. You on the other hand would fill you life with worry and dread over his release and it would likely negatively affect you mental and physical health. Forgiveness is for you, not the other person.

      Now a total fool might do something to him outside of prison and end up there themselves. Or just ruin their lives by being stuck in the past. This line of thought is infinitely more foolish than giving up your vengeance to God.

      Your anger is likely a manifestation of that forgiveness you feel towards those that wronged you. So you project you anger at the group that you feel wronged you. Has the anger done anything other than shorten your life?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • Poltergeist

      *manifestation of that lack of forgiveness

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  11. John

    Sorry, this isnt the 19th century where a childs/ teenagers mind was viewed aa something compareable to an adult.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Edweird69

      Teen or not, this person can never be trusted to be loose in society. If they're capable of doing something so dreadful as a teen, we must error on the side of caution...and ensure they never are loose again.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  12. JJ

    "O’Brien told me something true – that Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, "

    This is a perfect example of religious delusions. That she would make a complete U-turn and work to get this scum, who dances in her sisteer's blood, back on the street is apalling. Is she praying for Hitler as well? I'd spit in her face if I had the chance.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Mike

      When Jesus, the Son of God, God incarnate, an innocent man, was being crucified for my sins and yours, He prayed and asked God, His Father, to forgive His killers saying, "they know not what they do." He set the standard for forgiveness. The Bible says that a natural man, a person who doesn't have a relationship with Christ, cannot understand the things of God...But a spiritual man, one who does have a relationship with Christ, has the mind of Christ, and therefore, can understand the things of God. Did Christ die for the sins of this killer? Absolutely Does He love this killer? Absolutely. Did He die for Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Charlie Manson, Osama Bin Laden (you get my point)...absolutely. The Bible says that His ways are not our ways, as high as heaven is from Earth, so are God's ways from ours...See Isaiah 55. If God wants to do a work in this man's heart, He can and will. As believers, we are all called to His, not ours, standard of love and forgiveness. We or for that matter, anyone else, don't have to like it. We do, however, in this face of God's enormous love and grace, have to trust Him for the changes we need in our own hearts to be able to, as this author has done, forgive someone like this.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • JJ

      Dude, quoting from some bronze age text means nothing to those of us who do not suffer from the delusions you and this woman suffer from. Thanks for providing another example of how crazy you Christians are.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Mike

      Hi JJ: I live in cowboy country. A "dude," for your information, happens to be a pus filled pimple on the backside of a cow. I'm pretty confident that I'm not one of those. I may be deluded. I've been a middle/high school teacher for a long time. A whole lot of my students would definitely agree with you that I'm crazy. But I can tell you that there is enough historical evidence out there to convince any "reasonable" person that that "Bronze Age" book is actually what it claims to be...God's word. By the way, and the evidence confirms this, the Bible was written over a period of about 1600 years, 1400 BC to about 100 AD. The bronze age ran from about 3300 BC to 2500 BC. I would encourage you to read Norman Geisler's book, "Christian Apologetics" for a very good summary of the evidence I speak of. Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" is another good source. Anything by John Warwick Montgomery is really good. You may not agree with anything these authors have to say...but at least you'd be better informed about what Christians really believe. Many blessings!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  13. John

    juveniles are different from adults.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • maxmaxwell

      only until it comes to the point of violence, yet the law should not discriminate. "train a child the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" old words wise wisdom, this also carries over to the penalties of transgression. Take a life loose yours. simple and to the point, now what don't you understand??? Oh if you are a teen, well the rules are different?? If you break the law, there are penalties to pay, Chicago is a prime example of what happens when you let lawyers dictate all the nonsense to prosecute the law, and keeping these violent offenders in jail is one, executing killers is another, no 40 years of appeals, what is wrong with you people anyway???

      February 3, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  14. Hookay

    Whatever she decides, it's her call. If that's what she needs to keep from destroying her own life, so be it.
    As for the system of removing him from doing the public harm, IMO the punishment is fitting. Keep him far away
    from ( using a metaphor) being the bombardier flying over a city of human beings as possible.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  15. Edweird69

    Good grief! The killer is a Sociopath. He's criminally insane. He has to be locked away forever, as criminal insanity has no cure. It cannot be fixed. Xtians are a strange bunch. She's willing to turn this dangerous person loose, but gays are to burn forever. Xtianity gets more and more bizarre, the more I hear about it.

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

      She never said she was willing to turn the killer loose. She said that she was praying that some day he would become well enough to be turned loose. You and I both know, and I'm sure that the author knows that the legal system will do what it does to keep him in prison. But, God has a way of doing what He does...whether we approve of it or not. And yes Christians are indeed a strange bunch. The bible in 1 Peter 2: 9 identifies us (I'm one of those strange ones) as a peculiar people...called and set apart by God to proclaim HIs excellencies. And to remind people that He will do whatever He wants...that's why He is God...and we're not. Many blessings to you!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  16. nc1965

    Anger keeps you alive. It gives you something to continue living for.

    This forgiveness thing that this woman speaks about is why Religious people are nothing more than doormats.

    You've heard the say, All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing (Edmond Burke).

    If someone does you great harm or kills your loved one, stay angry, hate them if you want. But don't forgive. Don't let them off the hook by forgiving them. They don't deserve it.

    Don't be a doormat.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Jason

      First, I need to admit that I'm an atheist, or at least agnostic. When I walked through the door at the end of my life, if there happens to be a higher being, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

      Regarding your comment, it is not religion that makes this person a doormat, it is our right stupidity. There's nothing wrong with religion, it teaches tolerance, responsibility, and values. What is wrong is when someone allows religion to get in the way of common sense and human nature. Calling them a doormat because of religion is a stupid statement.

      Just get the root cause right, and I'm sure others would back you.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Mike

      As Christians, we are called to "overcome evil with Good" (Jesus Christ) Love, the kind demonstrated by Christ at the cross of Calvary, is inestimably more powerful than anger.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  17. James

    Change the law such that an obviously insane deranged person can not obtain a killing machine. Hold sellers culpable for when they recklessly sell killing machines to killers. Stop the proliferation of violence in this Country in the name of the 2nd amendment and MONEY. NRA, you a just as guilty as any killer who gets their killing hands on these too easily obtainable KILLING MACHINES. A gun is designed for only one purpose....... to KILL.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Edweird69

      I wish things were as simple as you say. Unfortunately, killers will kill...with or without gun powder.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  18. spike

    The killer should have been executed.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  19. Chris

    If one is opposed to the death penalty I can understand that. If one wishes to forgive I can also understand that. But to be ok with the release of David Biro is inexcusable. I live 5 miles from where this crime occurred and am very familiar with it. David Biro is a monster who should have been executed long ago. I do applaud her religious convictions but I do feel her statements spit on the graves of her loved ones. Nonetheless, I hope her family can find comfort in their choices.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:27 am |
  20. forgive4youself

    To be able to forgive is a good thing for the person who is doing the forgiving. To forgive and forget is another thing. Something this horrific can't be forgotten. The killer can't be restored to normal relationship with society and needs to accept the consequences of his behavior, no matter what his age. Otherwise we become enablers of them repeating their actions. Religion sometimes enables.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Amazing...

      Personal forgiveness is a useful method to get past this event, heal yourself and get on with your life. But anyone who is advising you–for the sake of your religion–to seek this guy's freedom is leading you astray. That is NOT what forgiveness is about.

      You want to hang the safety of everyone else on whether he takes his medication each day, and whether he talks to his counselor one a week?! NO!!! He needs to stay locked up for the safety of everyone else. To pursue his freedom is irresponsible, dangerous, and a foolish interpretation of the meaning of "forgiveness."

      February 3, 2013 at 8:49 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.