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. Tom Hunter

    The author is well-meaning, but wrong. God didn't make anyone "for a purpose." He created us, gave us free will, and let us make our own choices. To suggest he made us for a purpose negates free will and is an insult to the gift we've been given.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      well said, tom
      omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence are contradictions too
      just think of the problem of evil

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

      And I'd go further and say you're wrong. No sky god created us. That flys in the face of reason.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • LH

      Well said, Tom.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • El Flaco

      Free will is a fantasy. You are pretty much programmed by your genetics and by your history to make certain choices and ignore other available choices. Fat people are 'free' to eat less, but most of them don't. Religious people are 'free' to read a good book on evolution, but they will choose not to.

      The human personality is shaped by experience and confined by the opinions of others.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • shawn Blumenfeld


      February 3, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Dennis


      It does not have to be one or the other. God creates us for a purpose "To bring glory to God" but we still get to choose what we do. We get to choose whether or not we follow God's will or not. They are not mutually exclusive. Remember that if we choose not to follow God's will, then we get to deal with the consequences of those decisions.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Joseph

      I'm pretty liberal but HOLY WOW!!! This article belongs somewhere else. Like, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

      Dear Jeanne, I can assure you that you and the murder who killed your loved one just to see what it felt like are not "equally fallen".

      That said – this article should be taken off CNN. It's bizarre, as if we're in a world where no one has any context of 20th C. History.

      I'm against the death penalty, not because I cherish the lives of sadists, but because there's nothing more craven than "the state" putting an innocent man to death. Which happens regularly and historically in the USA.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  2. Sara

    I think prison may be his second chance. After all, that is more than your sister got.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  3. debbie

    Only God can change a heart! Your message is so encouraging and a true witness to what God can accomplish for HIs glory! I'm sure you take great comfort in knowing you will be with your sister, nephew, and brother in law again one day! Thank you for your heart and sharing your story.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • shawn Blumenfeld

      This woman has a good heart,no doubt. God had not one thing to do with her sudden way to forget what happened. Many people prefer letting them go so they can forgive something somewhere they thought. [ spilling milk ] God would not let killing of a whole family A-OK. Forgive to me is having a stupid argument with family and forgive a relative who called you everything on earth. In your ray of sunshine ,if he gets out ,which he wont. This predator has to have a place set up to live in a house a hosted house of family or friends. IF you love this sort of forgiving , give this predator a home ,food ,room and hide your kids.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  4. Win Adams

    Sorry, but I don't believe that all are forgiven. I believe that there is evil in this world. I believe that there are those that are born evil and that they are called bad seeds. If you belileve in God then you must also believe in Satan and evil. No, he should never get out of prison. He is a stone cold killer. You see it all the time, commit crimes, go to prison, get out, commit more crimes. Revolving door. The revolving door needs to stop for killers and rapists. There are those that cannot change because they are born evil. They come from Satan.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  5. Henry Gondorff

    The victims family has the right to forgive the killer, that is their business.
    But a murderer should not even be breathing, never mind released from jail.
    And the fact that he was under 18 and had a poor upbringing does NOT excuse anything.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  6. shawn Blumenfeld

    what a mess this is. God?Tooth Fairy? A book that has more x-rated parts than ..oh heck any book I have read. Does not mean you set a predator free. You play golf with "god" and talk about the next revenge part ,but you do not pardon a man who killed your kid sister,brother- in-law and unborn baby.
    He was on a thrill kill and he will most likely in these cases do it again. If "thrill kill" does it again ,he will get the death sentence ,which he could not get before because he was a minor. There really are some people born bad , some to hurt children and people who never get the facts of being a person ,instead of living up to what a man .. "MAN" may or may have not done. I have been very hurt in my life and you can forgive ,beg to let the freak out . You are letting out a killing carnivore. When he does this again, who is buying lunch ... you or your God ?Please, we have enough murders ,keep him inside his hell ,that he made.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  7. El Flaco

    I am a product of Christian culture. I believe in the Christian values:
    that all men and women are my brothers and my sisters
    that it is our duty to help the weak, the sick, the poor, the young, the old, the pregnant, the oppressed, and the downtrodden
    that we should treat one another exactly as we ourselves would like to be treated
    that the evil men and women among us should be taught and helped to be good people whenever possible

    I don't believe in Yahweh, God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, Satan or any other invisible, inaudible, immaterial beings.

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

      The bible is filled with accounts from eye witnesses that both heard and talked with God. It's your choice to believe them or not.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  8. mcrdns

    Why can't people handle things on their own. Why do they have to use "god" as a coping mechanism. Your sister was killed in a senseless act by a mentally distrubed individual. He is serving his time and it will never be punishment enough.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • John

      Forgiveness is letting go of the misery, and letting God sort it out. This makes room for bliss to return to her life. I am glad she's done this, her life can now move foreward into more positive and rewarding things so bliss can return.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  9. kenhbradshaw

    I think your path is right. God bless you.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      the power of delusion is very strong

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

      I can't say that I hope for the same outcome as you, but i'm happy that you have come to such a place in your mind. Peace!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  10. sandinmyshoes

    Are you serious? Forgive this piece of crap? He needed to be hung from a high tree for all to see right after he was convicted.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  11. steve

    let him rot in hell

    February 3, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  12. Adam

    The ONLY person who can forgive the criminal is, in this case and others like it, dead.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  13. hotsauce

    We are all in this together

    February 3, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      no, we are not

      February 3, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • shawn Blumenfeld

      Please, "we" is used too loosely . No book or belief should allow the predator out. So if "YOU" want to be with this poor woman at the hearing ..Than do. But I would fight it and would not set a known ,100% sure predator go.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  14. nolapearl

    And what if one of these juveniles gets out and kills again? That OK?

    February 3, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      she talks about second chances, i wonder if there are third, fourth, and fifth chances too...
      who knows, 'god has a plan'

      February 3, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  15. dorsh44

    What a joke. Everything happens for a reason? Justice? Justice is when this guy gets let out, steps off the curb in front of a mac truck. Justice.

    A killer on the streets is a killer on the streets. society would be better off just putting cold blooded murderers down. Judges and lawyers don't think the blood is on their hands for what these guys do when they get out.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  16. Karen

    Forgiveness is a beautiful gift given by God. Such an encouraging story.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • matreyia@yahoo.com

      Forgiveness is not given by God, rather by man. Stop talking nonsense unless you want to show everyone where this god is.
      Forgiveness is first and foremost for the benefit of the person who forgives.It does very little to help the perpetrator.
      A forgiving heart is much healthier than one that clings to negative emotions.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • shawn Blumenfeld

      yup,blame it on God . Have lunch with the almighty and lets see what new chapters can be obtained regarding a predator , who will do this again. Don't blame it on a god ,that deity had no part of letting a carnivore go.You want to do a good deed ? Go to the shelters and help dish out food and help the kid who needs adopted over age one. Good deed does not and never will ,letting out a kill for fun sorta guy "Gods Plan" and society which is a mess anyway ,might suggest you take him in so he has a place to go after he gets out. THE PLAN????

      February 3, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  17. Dan

    Many passionate comments. When you read a story of such perverse violence, one can only wander in their own thoughts if such a loss happened to them. I think the power of the story is not the fate of the criminal, rules of law seal that on earth, but the journey to search one's own soul for peace. To reconcile the unthinkable, from anger to acceptance to peace, represents a courage and wisdom beyond our comments. We have all experienced loss. How we process that loss over time, however difficult, further defines our human intellect & compassion. Like others, I don't know if I can reason this if it happened to me, but at least one person did rise above normal consciousness, for that I applaud.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  18. john the atheist

    This story is more proof that religion makes you do and say crazy things. Maybe the killer will get out and kill more pregnant women, and make a few more jesus followers. I'd rather an atheist shoot him in the head and be done with it.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • KIM D


      February 3, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  19. Archieman

    The killer needs to remain in jail for life. Would you want this killer as your next door neighbor?

    Some people have declared war on society they need to be be placed when they can do no harm .

    February 3, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Archieman

      CORRECTION: The killer needs to remain in jail for life. Would you want this killer as your next door neighbor?

      Some people have declared war on society they need to be placed where they can do no harm .

      February 3, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  20. GO_GOP

    Our Lord works in mysterious ways. We can never hope to understand his ways and should always accept him. Science is a fiction by Satan himself to mislead us for all we know. Come surrender to our Lord and find a happiness in earth and then a sure pass to heaven. Seek Jesus.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      sorry, dude, but I don't care if we can or can't understand your divine dictator
      if I don't have a good reason, I could care less what his reasons are. I like to think critically about our reality, and if that is a bad thing, then you know who's fault it is.
      Keep your god to yourself, that's where it belongs.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Jeff K

      Right, science backed by observable evidence is the fiction.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:03 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.