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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. Frank Czine

    Absolutely ridiculous. Not only should he not be released, he should be executed. It's unconscionable that he should be taken care of for his entire life at taxpayer expense.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Because of the screwed up way the "justice" system "works", it normally costs more to carry out the death penalty, than to leave them in prison. Too bad we don't have Botany Bay available anymore.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Khan!!!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  2. Anil

    My sincere condolences for your loss, but more condolences to your dead sister, her husband and her unborn child that they have a person so shallow as you.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Bitter much?

      February 3, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  3. Mike

    next thing you know, she will be dating the guy

    February 3, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • salmjl

      You are pathetic.

      February 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  4. Richard Cranium

    Robert
    I am not tripped up. I see the stories, and realize that they can not be rationally or logically believed.
    If they could be believed rationally and logically, there would be no need of faith.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  5. Dana

    Nobody has a "purpose". Life is what you make of it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  6. George

    It pains me to see some of the Christian responses here that discuss no forgiveness. Yes, only God can absolve this man of his sin but do not state that one sin is more harmful than another – all sin is wrong in God's eye whether it be the little candy that is stolen from 7-eleven or the murder of your fellow humans. And for those that don't believe in God ... why is killing even wrong ... without a God there is no moral code and why shouldn't what this 16 year old did be fine the way it is ... all civiliizations have a moral code written on their hearts by our Creator

    February 3, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  7. Tim

    I understand praying for the ability to forgive someone so that one can move forward in life, I have done this. I do not believe that a person who killed to see what it was like will ever change. Now if this woman prays the way she prays so she can sleep at night with a clear heart, so be it. However, if I were in the situation, I do not believe that the outcome would be the same. I would pray that he would be released so I could get me revenge how I wanted, once again that is what I believe I would do if put in the situation. I hope to the heavens I never have to walk this type of path.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  8. Kris

    She is not saying he will get better, and she says he is not there yet. There is no guarantee he will ever be to the point that he could be safely released. But if he were, then he should get a chance, and she prays that such a day comes. Something inside of this woman has healed, regardless of whatever happens to the person who murdered her sister.

    while David Biro may...or may not...ever be to the point that he might be free, other children behind bars may have different outcomes, and may benefit from a chance. Not a guarantee, but a chance for a different future.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  9. rosethornne

    Stupid

    February 3, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Matt

      Im dumber for reading this.......

      February 3, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  10. Dana

    Praying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  11. diana

    Gee, maybe this juvenile' s purpose was to kill your family... praise Jesus!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  12. jpbslayer

    Ok so juveniles are blessed by god– but those over 18 are not?
    what will you say when one of these people get out and kill again?
    I have been to jail before- very few get rehabilitation. alot of people who sit and lie and say they learned there lesson– you can become a great actor when there is nothing else to do. I use to joke that i had found Jesus– AND HE LIVES IN JAIL. people would ask what i meant– well its simple you find all these people who go to jail and find god. BUT immediately upon release god is gone– so obviously he lives in jail

    February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  13. morgan

    to the writer of this essay – whatever you can do to cope with your horrible loss, however, this isn't a person I want released to be around me or my children or friends or family.

    he took a life, and his penance is serving out the time your sister should've lived. she had her whole life to live and he took that from her. forgive him, sure, but this is his punishment. it's an insult to all murder victims to let their killers out and live their lives while they rot in the ground.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  14. joe madaratz

    what an idiot!!!!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  15. Dana

    The guy killed your sister for no reason. It is what it is. It has nothing to do with your imaginary friend. Sorry.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  16. AtheistSteve

    "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."

    And yet God has no qualms about punishing the fallen with eternal torture in hell. The only type of justice that matters is that which is served in this lifetime. Only the religious believe a higher form of judgment exists. One which allows for mercy toward this awful crime. He willfully disobeyed the law and is being punished accordingly. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He took lives and thus forfeits his own right to live freely. Imprisonment is sufficient. I'm all for the eye for an eye idea but I don't accept the death penalty because it isn't punishment...it's the end of punishment and a release from suffering. He would likely invite death being that he placed so little value on life. Let him live with the consequences of his actions. Ironically locked up for life is still more merciful than what he took from his victims. Their one and only mortal existence.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  17. IgnoranceIsBliss

    For what it's worth, I also did not say that I am more intelligent than the author. In fact, I would not likely be able to find forgiveness for such an act of evil. If I did though, it would not take a fairy tale figure for me to come to that conclusion. If she can forgive, I think that's great. But thinking he no longer deserves life in prison – that's just dangerous – like so many other beliefs that stem from a religious viewpoint.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  18. Matt

    Denial is a very powerful thing. This self enforced delusional fantasy that your sisters murderer will someday get better if you only pray for him is dangerous and disturbing. He isn't going to "get well" Jeanne, because he is exactly as nature designed him to be...a predator

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

      Thank goodness – there are some intelligent comments on this post!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  19. David

    He should have gotten exactly the same as he did to the 3 people he killed. Yes he should have been executed. We must stop wasting tax payer dollars keeping the slime of the world alive in a prison cell.

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

      It costs more dollars to execute than life in prison. The death penalty is not worth it on any level.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • morgan

      i support the death penalty, but not bc it's cheaper. it isn't. so can we not with that stupid myth.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Dana

      It would be cheaper if we made it cheaper.

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

      Actually it is more expensive to kill someone through capital punishment, then to keep them in prison for life. (Being on death row is very expensive – all the court hearings and high security prison, solitary confinement, etc.) The value of a person's life shouldn't be about money anyways.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • JWT

      How would you possibly make it cheaper ?

      February 3, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      JWT
      Make it cheaper?...easy. Put the man in a sealed room with a knife....no food, no water....he can end his suffering at anytime with the knife.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • JWT

      So you believe in neither justice nor rule of law. So be it.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  20. Gawd

    It must be make believe day again.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Big Ern

      Oh geez, here come the annoying atheists again. Just keep your mouth shut if you can't find anything nice to say.

      P.S. I'm agnostic myself, but atheists these days are getting to be the most annoying proselytizers.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:52 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.