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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. Bucky D Beaver

    First, this guy is where he belongs. If it was "gods" purpose for him to kill a family then, it is "gods" purpose for him...to spend the rest of his days locked up. Second, "God" and religion are for weak minded people who need a crutch top make it though their daily lives. Stand on your own. What has "god" done for you that you couldn't have done on your own? Faith...right!...nothing more than a justification for believing in "god". I have faith that I will win the lottery. then use all that money to end world hunger, stop all the hate and killing. We will all be brothers. Right!!! I feel for her and her lost family. Different strokes!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  2. Bought by the Blood

    I salute you. What You did is not easy but it is the right thing to do. I hope that boy learns of your change of heart and that he would find the same peace in God the same way you have. Forgiveness is a very very powerful thing. God bless you! =)

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  3. FreeTheMarket

    The author said that she ADMIRES BERNADINE DOHRN. This is the wife of Bill Ayers, and both she and Ayers were members of the Weather Underground. Bernadine Dohrn was a leader of this domestic terrorist organization, which bombed federal buildings and police stations.

    The author is obviously confused and it is no surprise that she has radically changed her mind on this case. It would not surprise me if she suddenly changed her mind again. She cannot see fit to condemn her sister's murderer, nor other people who do not deserve our admiration, such as Bernadine Dohrn.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  4. Tommy Romines

    Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  5. firstbrandyjack

    She gets it! Such a simple idea, but lost under demands for revenge, and silly statements about "closure." David Biro may never prove himself to be capable of living a normal life. But, his case is not justification for inhumane and senseless sentences for other juveniles or adults. Enough Murders of innocents for revenge, and only for revenge. The blood of every innocent murdered because of official misconduct, hiding evidence and testimony, evidence distorted, expert and legal officials lying on the witness stand or officials, police to District Attorneys, not wanting to admit a mistake, spill across all of us. Historically, it seems the harsher the sentences imposed as "justice" the harsher and less civilized the population would become.
    True justice would have the defense with equal access to the money and experts as the prosecution, and misconduct resulting in wrongful verdicts subject to the same punishments as the crime. I will endorse Capital Punishment under one condition, every official for the prosecution is subject to the open ended, no special statute of limitations, identical punishment handed down by the court. If an innocent man is executed, and later official misconduct is proven, those responsible are charged with 1st Degree Murder with a similar sentence. Do not care of the official goes on to be President. Tainted evidence, suborning perjury, hiding evidence or fact from the defense, etc, to gain a "victory" for justice and another run of the political ladder gets you arrested and brought to court to answer to "Justice."

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  6. Hello

    Your sister's murder went to the wrong house.. he should have went to yours.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Feel better? or does it still hurt?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  7. Bill

    This helped her find peace and attacking her spirituality is ignorant at best. It's her right. As far as life without parole. Well I guess that's part of God's plan too.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  8. Matt

    Poltergeist – let us see what is forgiving between militant Atheism and the rest.

    Militant Muslim – Fly' planes into buildings for their religion...plus many wars
    Militant Christian – Blows abortion clinics up because of there religion...plus many wars.
    Militant Atheist – Uses free speech and writes books...

    Hmmmm I wonder which one out of these are more forgiving?? History shows us the religion is very unforgiving...

    February 3, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Sing has consequences

      Outside of Eric Rudolph, and that was almost 15? years ago, don't hear about too many abortion clinics being blown up.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Damocles

      Ohhh, it happened 15 years ago, so it's ok.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Poltergeist

      The evangelicals of those faiths would be a closer equivalent.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  9. Mg

    Garbage. Good for her. But just plain religious garbage. This kid needs to stay in jail forever. Because it is about other citizens also. Public safety. Let this kid rot. One less punk on the street.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Netmonger

      Bravo! Religious garbage it is! Christianity is simply *not true*, and believing in this kind of nonsense is holding us back as a species. Its 2013 – people need to stop acting like children and face the facts of reality. This kid is a piece of s**t and deseves every second of that life sentence.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  10. Name*steve

    Let him rot in jail. What would you think if hegot out and wanted to kill you. Forgivness is over rated

    February 3, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  11. Blah

    That dude should have been hung from the nearest tree. No forgiveness, no mercy.
    There is no jesus, there is only Zuul!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  12. Karen

    As a Christian, I have to disagree with what the author says in this article. This killer was 16, not 6. A 16 year old may not be able to make the wisest decision in his life. But killing a whole family was not a simple judgement issue. The killer was evil. At age 16, he's capable of committing such a heinous crime. What can he do if he's older, stronger, and smarter? No, we society do not want to give him a chance to harm another victim.

    It is interesting that some Christians use Bible verses to claim mercy on the cold blood killers. Doesn't the Bible also state those who commit murders shall be destroyed? And where does the Bible mention the magic age of 18? If the author truly believe what she claimed, then she should admit all people including adults are God's children. The Bible never says the principal of forgiveness does not apply when you turn 18. Using her logic, even adult killers should be freed from life sentences. Then no one will be punished for whatever they do. People like Hitler, BTK should have all been spared.

    God has mercy. But this mercy is not to blur the line of right and wrong. The evil killer needs to be punished for his crime. He needs to be locked up so no more innocent families are going to destroyed. The classic story of forgiveness in the Bible talks about how Jesus helped spare an adulterous woman from death penalty and asked her to sin no more. It is not the same as freeing cold blooded killers Into the society.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  13. El Flaco

    Are there not thousands of Americans in Afghanistan today who roam the country killing strangers and feeling no remorse? Do we who sent them there share in their guilt?

    Morality is a very convenient thing. It always tells us that we are right and they are wrong.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Damocles

      What the hell, man? It's war. War is about killing the other guy before he kills you. Don't sit in your armchair thinking that the vast majority of soldiers don't feel remorse for what they have to do.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  14. Animal

    Good luck with your journey.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  15. a dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • diana

      This is all true. And obvious. And scary...because so many people still believe all this. Nothing will ever, ever change their minds. They will believe this nonsense, watch Fox news and vote republican ' til the day they die.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • El Flaco

      A clever exam. Unfortunately, those who should consider its implications will not read it.

      Religious people protect their ignorance like a good Muslim maiden protects her virginity.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Hello

      Please read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill. There never was a jesus...

      February 3, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  16. LI_Bri

    Only the weak and defeated forgive a killer. David Biro deserves to die.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Damocles

      Exactly, it is the meek ati-tude of exposing your throat in the hopes that the wolves don't rip it out.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • George

      Best post I've ever read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • El Flaco

      Christians forgive.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  17. TheOnlyTrueBeliever3000

    I can't believe that Mrs. Bishop hated the killer of her sister to begin with. What for? According to her beliefs, her sister and her husband went straight to Heaven, so their killer is to be congratulated for giving them eternal bliss sooner rather than later. At least that is what Bible teaches us...

    February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  18. Aaron

    This has some similarties to the Amy Biehl story (promising young woman doing service work in South African when her life was taken by an angry mob). Her parents are exceptional examples of people who can forgive. I encourage any one to read about it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  19. bibleverse1

    Forgiveness is good. We can forgive criminals, we can forgive people who hurt us or ones we love. That does not mean they escape the laws of man. Having sentences carried out doesnt mean you dont forgive.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  20. Miracle Do Happen

    Forgiving someone for a senseless act is a true healing power....God has given us that. But potential release of this boy/man for a second chance as stated in her article, is very doubtful. I propose before she continues "My mind is changed; my heart is remade, and a new task lies ahead." she meets him if at all possible to ask WHY? With that chance, she will see if he is as remorseless as he was. for the safety of society......

    February 3, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Hello

      Then why should we even prosecute murders and other criminals.. we should just arm them and let them do as they please because it is some super fairy's will? Lady your are nuts... The reason we have so much crime in the US is because there is so very little punishment here. If you think murderers. rapists etc are so important than it is because you are ONE of THEM.
      This kid should have been tortured in public and then allowed to rot to death in the public square.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Hello

      I wonder if you will feel the same when one of these nut job kids is pointing a gun to you and your family just before he pulls the trigger.
      There are no gods.. just fools who believe they exist.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Miracle Do Happen

      A reply to these comments is senseless....as your comments has no relevancy to my comment. I'm truly sorry you have no faith.....

      February 3, 2013 at 9:50 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.