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. billu

    such killers much be executed or locked up forever....no mercy...

    February 3, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  2. Taylor

    Very sad, but how is this news?

    February 3, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  3. DB

    I agree with most of the posters. A person may find it in their heart to forgive someone for committing such a heinous crime, but to let them out on unsuspecting innocent others is wrong, I believe. I personally do not have faith that someone who kills three people (or two and a person-to-be) just to see what it feels like and then goes to the funeral can be rehabilitated. Or at least shall I say, I'd rather not bet my life and the lives of people I love on the fact that they can. He has committed this crime. Maybe God can forgive him and maybe the author can, but he still needs to be kept away from society and pay with the serving of a life sentence for taking the lives of these people.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  4. SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

    Some things are unforgivable....for instance , murder.
    Some guy convincing this woman to forgive the killer of her sister's family? why? what stake does he have in this? what makes this guy qualified to guilt trip and judge this woman? (and you know he did, because why else would SHE be asking for forgivness?)

    Forgive the killer? kid or not, he deserves nothing but utter contempt. There is no God – so shes asking for forgiveness from an imaginary being ...absolute lunacy.....

    February 3, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  5. Jake

    I respect your opinion Ms. Bishop but I read the details about the crime here:
    http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/illinois-offender-cases/ (Scroll down to "David Biro")
    People like that should either be executed or locked up forever. They do not belong in society. EVER.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  6. Kenneth

    Mrs. Bishop:

    I appreciate your comments coming from a heart touched by grace when such horrible evil was thrust upon your family. I struggle with being able to forgive and the wrongs I deal with are no where near what you have had to live through. Intellectually, I know that God loves my enemies as much as he loves me, yet my struggle is learning to forgive them. Hate lives so comfortably in our world, and it has found refuge in my heart as well. That truth contradicts the message of grace in my heart, and sadly I must confess that I have not let grace transform me the way it transformed Paul and yourself. Thank you for this powerful picture of a heart touched by grace.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  7. William

    Saul early in the Book of Acts, was a Murder!!! He Murdered 100's of Jews and those who were follower's of Jesus Christ. And then just at a Flash of a Lighting Apostle Paul was forgiven by Jesus Christ.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Carl

      That's pure hogwash! You people read from that book like it means something. If it really does, then do as it says and quit "picking and choosing" your verses. Kill your neighbor when he works on Sunday, get you some slaves to beat on. Let people have your daughters for pleasure. Kill your unruly children. If that fails, go have a nice long chat with a snake.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  8. Texas

    Okay. Forgive the little SOB. Then strap him to the gurney and make sure he can't do it again.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Carl

      Agreed! Ask any Texan!

      February 3, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  9. SW

    Well I certainly support "personal awakenings" I have to say that I don't really understand why 'god' becomes the reason to explor the release of monsters...most of the people behind bars have mental disorders that prevent them from fully understanding the gravity of their actions, not people I want living next door to me. Guns need to be more tightly controlled to limit the number of these incidents. This kid didn't need a gun to protect himself from the tyranny of the government, he got a gun in order to cause pain, and unfortunately there are lots of people who do this. The US has the highest number of gun violence incidents IN THE WORLD, maybe it's time for a hange....I thought it was a first world country

    February 3, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  10. Dennis

    Please remember that the chief beneficiary of forgiveness is not who receives the forgiveness but the forgiver. I may forgive somebody and it may have no impact on them but it may have a tremendous impact on me. Not to carry around the bitterness and anger is a huge relief. While I say this, please remember that while I may forgive them and even God might forgive them that does not release them from earthly consequences. Some people need to stay in prison not only for punishment but to keep society safe.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  11. charles darwin

    An eye for an eye.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      yep, welcome to the bronze age

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Poltergeist

      Right, and atheism is uploaded to stop wars and lead mankind into a rational age. Where everyone always holds a grudge. I can almost smell the olive branches on the peace tree.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Count The Bodies

      Great atheists of the world: Stalin, Mao, Pot, Castro – perhaps even Hitler (he renounced any Christian beliefs). Beautiful people who saved millions from the hypocrisy of religion.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Carl

      Polterguiest, he's only reading from your bible. Christians, not atheist are the problem. You idiots believe every word of that book written by sheepherders and disregard modern science. How dumb is that? At least atheist USE THEIR REASON, and don't rely on imaginary friends and "faith".

      February 3, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  12. Yaara

    How odd that the woman who wrote this believes that she and her sister's murderer are "equally fallen." That is the most depressing statement I've read all day.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Dennis

      The phrase that works here is "All have fallen short of the Glory of God." Please note that it says "all." In Christianity, the belief is that sin, generic sin – whether you are talking about lieing, adultery, stealing, murder, or any other type of sin, including sins of omission or not doing what you know you should do, separate us from God. We don't have the right to say who Jesus died for and which sins are forgiven and which aren't. In fact, John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world..." It doesn't say that God loved the Christians, the Baptist, the Catholics, the whatever. He loved the world. Yes, some things are more reprehensible in our eyes, especially those who prey on the children. There is a quote about those who would be better off with a millstone tied to their neck and thrown in the deep of the ocean. But everybody is looking up at Jesus on the cross. We are no better. All who have chosen to follow Christ have benefitted from His sacrifice.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  13. sottanisse

    Religion breeds stupidity.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Texas

      I bet your mother and father were very, very, very religious.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • RdWhtNBlu

      No shxt! Religion is a cult that changes normal thinking to believe that this life does not matter, as the eternal, completely make believe after-life is what this factual life is to be lived for. What a shame the lives given to stupidity.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Texas

      Yet another product of two very, very, very religious people.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Count The Bodies

      We need more good atheist leaders like Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pot and Castro.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  14. Anonymous

    While I have great sympathy for this situation, I prefer not to let someone out who would likely kill again. This reminds me of the naïveté of those who refuse medical treatment because they will pray their loved one to health...until they die and it is too late. I applaud her desire to forgive but I don't think anyone else should have to die when this sociopath would have the opportunity to trick their way out of jail and eventually kill again. The risks are too great with someone who decided to kill just to see what it was like.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Bob

      Excellent point. Serial killers, especially, can never be trusted to be crime free no matter how old they are. And why spend a ton of money trying to prove that they can when there are thousands for every one of them that could be better recipients of those efforts? We need to forgive, and forget, but let's not be stupid.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  15. Kelly51

    I'm happy for this women that she has forgivness in her heart. Something we all need. However the bible teaches us forgivness, not to forget. When someone breaks a law they must be punished. The bible teaches that we are to obey the law of Ceaser. This cold blooded killer did not do that. He in fact took joy in wiping out a whole family, stealing the joys that awaited them. He should be held accountable for his actions and to the fullest extent of law for the henious crime he planned and executed. This kid was not someone that had never been in trouble before. He must take his punishment and hopefully find a new path and do something good with his life behind bars. Innocent citizens should not have these types of evil individuals thrust on us to deal with. We pay taxes to keep killers behind bars as a deterent as well as for public safety!

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

      If you live in the past you cannot do god's work in the future.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Kelly51

      No one is living in the past. I say pray for the kid that he finds his way and forgivness is something we all need to do. It lightens the load that's for sure. Carrying around hate and anguish is a very heavy load to drag around with you day to day. But, this cold blooded killer was sentenced by his peers and his sentence should be upheld.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      The murderer is in his late 30's...hardly a "kid".

      February 3, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Kelly51

      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.

      Yes he was a kid, juvenile.

      February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  16. KB

    It's one thing to forgive, but another to just forget and let someone like that go free. Just because he is shown compassion it doesn't mean he has or will change. He didn't kill because he was desperate or didn't know right from wrong, or being coerced. He didn't care about right and wrong. He killed to see what it felt like. That's the behavior of a psychopath. They do not change.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  17. lol??

    Da shooter have a dad?

    February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • MIchael

      I wrote an article to address this today, called Forgivness vs. Justice.

      See KeepAmericaFromHell.blogspot.com if interested.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  18. Pamterps

    Sounds to me like she was guilted by this pastor into believing that the only way to truly be a Christian and have eternal life is to forgive her sister's murderer. That's the problem with religion; it preys on legalism and neglects the actual heart and soul of a human being. The result is people falsely forgiving those they are not ready to forgive out of fear of not making it to heaven.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Kelly51

      The life of Christ is all about forgivness. It doesn't say that we are to forget or that people shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. This story is based on one persons opinion.

      February 3, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  19. Lynn1957

    I believe some people are "wired" different and sometimes the wiring cannot be repaired.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Texas

      Good point. Evil does exist.

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

    Your sister was created for a purpose too. Was it to be shot down by some idiot? I'm sorry for your loss but I think your feelings are misguided. It is important to move on but you don't have to pray for the person who took away your sister's life and her life purpose.,

    February 3, 2013 at 10:22 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.