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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. a dose of reality

    It is very easy to show how the Judeo Christian god is an invention of man, though.
    1. Only in late Bronze Age Palestine had anybody heard of this god. The millions of people living elsewhere in the World had never heard of it. All of the people living in China, Eaurope, Africa, India, the Australian Aboriginals had never heard of it until humans from Palestine gradually moved out and "spread the word".
    Does it really make sense that a being would create the an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Second, does it not appear to you a little silly that, of all the countless millions of people, this god would make the Jews its "chosen race" and obsess with giving them a host of rules, most relevant only to farmingcommunities. Hmmm, did god creat the Jewish farmers or did the Jewish farmers create God....
    Next, the stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).
    Next, the Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.
    By the way, we have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.
    When backed into a corner, Judeo-Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.
    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?
    No, Kalessein, faith is not even belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more substantial that the "hope for a good future" and no more universal universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.
    We are a frightened little species and we need to avoid the inevitablility of death. We create our gods to do just that and to explain those parts of nature we cannot explain or control. Fortunately, the penetrating light of science and knowledge has flushed this "god of the gaps" out of his hiding place. He is now forced to inhabit those few remaining dark patches science has not yet fully exposed. The origins of life is one, the uncritical mind of the believer is another.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Oh Well

      Dude, for all your words, if you only knew how much the christian god or even the Jewish god is all man made and manipulated, you'd need therapy. Its all the power of MYTH. This does not mean that there is no value to the Myth. It is truly more effort to keep up the lies than let the truth be. Religion will be gone in America and people will find the true path. Can't stop it. Go with it or be left behind.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Poltergeist

      The true path? Do tell.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  2. Eva Slade

    That groan you keep hearing is your sister rolling over in her grave. Keep the kid in jail and get on with your life

    February 3, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  3. Linda Luttrell

    Killing to see what it would be like? No remorse? As far as I'm concerned, he and others like him should get the death sentence...they won't be able to do it again!

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

      Exactly. In fact, I think if you want to "see what it was like to kill someone," you should also see what it's like to die.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  4. Kendall

    Christ had a temper and Christ had no patience for those who did wrong – he cleared the temple and spoke out constantly against those who abused their powers – and he gave his life to provide an example of complete sacrifice for love, to make a courageous statement that all that matters is love.This idea that he was a weak, turn the cheek and blanket even the undeserving with forgiveness is a horrible misunderstanding of what he stood for: the truth that love is all that matters. What he was trying to point out all the time was FALSE values and HYPOCRITICAL virtue – if Mr. Biro was truly repentant – TRULY repentant, then, only then, perhaps he could be forgiven. But to forgive him a priori, before he has not taken responsibility for what he did – took lives, which is everything Christ died to prevent – is an insult to Christ and all he stood for – this poor, sad lady has denied her own feelings in a pathetic attempt to feel virtuous and good – but she is already good, she does not have to prove it – and even the Perfectly Good abhore sinners and cleanse the temple. Mr. Biro belongs in prison until he changes and shows himself worthy of forgiveness – and that is more than sim[ly saying he is sorry: he must truly change.

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

      Kendall, I think you might be mistaking Jesus not having much time, for having a temper. He did not have a car to zip him around between crowds, or a lot of money, or fast acceptance of the people he'd talk with. He had 3.5 years to find and gather people, then pay the price for sins. He didn't waste time on those that rejected God, but helped those the loved God. Forgiveness is letting go of the misery. For the author, it's her letting go of it, so bliss can return into her life. This is what Jesus was all about, giving people back the bliss they had, before sin took over, and letting go of the misery.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  5. ohgod

    Forgiving David Biro is your choice. Don't force others to forgive juveniles who murdered their loves ones. Not all of us believe in your noddy god.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  6. Rescue7

    I think Jeanne is right in granting grace and forgiveness to the murderer. However, that does not mean she should work to have him released into the general public. That is being a poor steward.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  7. Robert Brown

    Ms. Bishop,

    O’Brien is the one who needs to repent for deceiving you. The weeds and the wheat are growing together.

    Matthew 13:39
    The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

    Those born again by the grace of God through faith in Jesus are the children of God, everyone else can be described by the following verse.
    John 8:44
    Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  8. JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

    There is not god, no jesus christ, no afterlife. You mindless sheeple that believe in me are only supporting an infrastructure designed to control the masses. Wake up.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  9. Todd

    let him out so he can kill again.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  10. Independent Fred

    Oh yea ......I forgot it's now the rage for kids to not believe in a higher power...self will run riot.

    We forgive not because someone deserves It that's between them and their higher power (if they have one). We forgive to be free of the bondage of anger and resentment so we can live our lives in peace.

    That's what her sister would of wanted..

    February 3, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  11. pjhall

    A 16 year-old that wanted to see what it was like to kill? This is someone that medication will not help, someone that therapy will not help, someone who needs to be locked away from the rest of society until the day he dies. What happens when he is paroled and he doesn't take his meds?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • John

      Kids today train hours each day to kill people in virtual worlds. Is anyone shocked that he wanted to know what it's like to do it for real? He wanted to try out his "skills"... for real. They don't punish you in virtual worlds, instead, you get rewarded. Is anyone shocked, in the slightest? Even a hint of shock?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  12. a dose of reality

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • agnosticatbest

      I applaud you for calling out the hypocrites.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • truebob

      @a dose of reality: That was awesome.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  13. Joeymom

    Forgive him. Pray for him. And leave him where he is, where others are safe from him. Improving lives of juvenile offenders, so they can do good from their prison walls, fine. But in an extreme case like this, please have them stay within those walls. Don't force other families to suffer.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • cooldude

      Well said. Where is the like button?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  14. LeX

    Leviticus, chapter 24, verses 17 through 20: “He who kills a man shall be put to death. When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

    February 3, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  15. beth

    Forgiveness means we no longer exact out vengence on the person we believe wronged us. The judgment, which in this case is life in prison, has been decided, as Jesus said we are to follow the laws imposed. Allowing dangerous criminals out fails to show mercy to the rest of the world. Mercy needs to be shown during the early years, helping young mothers learn how to parent, ensuring their babies get the psychological support needed to grow healthy human beings, stopping the violence which changes and torments these young people to the point where taking another life is inconsequential. That would be mercy. Jesus said that we should show mercy and forgiveness as individuals, but never said that the law should be changed to allow for unrepentant people to be relieved of their rightful burdens. Forgiveness is wonderful and good, but Jesus doesn't want us to allow people to hurt, maim or kill and then go free. That's why he gave the keys to the kingdom.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  16. Not all children are from God

    I personally would not be able to forgive this man. I believe that there is good and evil on this earth...this man David is purely evil. If he gets a second chance, he can kill again. Some people just don't deserve the second chance especially if this guy killed a whole family.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  17. AMR

    The sentence was given as the consequence of his actions. Forgiving is one thing but removing the consequences of his actions is not biblical. If I willingly kill, the law provides consequences. Christ can and will provide forgiveness but the consequences should still remain.
    I can understand the need for this woman to forgive. I cannot understand why she would want to risk the lives of any future victims or eliminate the consequences of this sick persons' actions.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  18. Blah

    Screw forgiveness. I would have gone Roman Empire on his @$$. Killed him then wiped out his entire family to remove any chance of retaliation.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  19. a dose of reality

    No matter how you dress it up, there are some fundamental difficulties with Christianity that are pretty hard to overcome.
    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.
    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.
    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.
    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.
    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).
    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.
    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.
    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.
    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.
    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.
    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?
    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Sotzume

      You are my idol.....thank you thank you thank you for an intelligently written rebuttal to the ridiculousness of religion.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  20. Sam Robles

    Dear Mrs. Bishop:
    You might forgive, but you cannot absolve the perpetrator, because only Christ can absolve a person of his sins. And I would say that in this case, which is a capital case involving murder, forgiveness is questionable, regardless of the killer's age. Forgiveness is appropriate if it makes you feel better and helps you live, survive, and avoid hate, which eats you inside. That's the purpose of forgiveness. But don't confuse forgiveness with absolution. Absolution is something that only Christ can address because He is the only one who shed His blood for humanity. Absolution means to wipe out a sin. Forgiveness does not wipe out the sin. Death sentences are applied to capital crimes in our Judeo-Christian society because the blood of Christ does not cover, or atone, for first degree premeditated murder. So people have to shed their own blood to atone for the sin. This is simply the law of justice that is at work. But absolution is something that might or might never be extended. That's for Christ to decide. Christ can only extend His mercy if there is repentance. Christ makes intercession in behalf of mankind with God the Father. He pleads our case with the Father.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • agnosticatbest

      it's okay to have your opinion, that is what this site is for. I do not agree there is a god though. I feel that if you are told to believe in god your entire life, you will. You have nothing else to compare it to. Take the time to search the scientific sides and you will see I am correct. Never let a storybook do your thinking for you. Think for yourself. You don't need a storybook (the bible) to tell you that you should be a good person and treat other's with respect. You should already know this.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:42 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.