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. Go do it again

    Good for the reader being able to forgive - but a juvenile will most likely repeat an offense–so I wonder how she will feel when that happens....just saying....

    February 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • dave

      what is the basis for your opinion - the emptiness of your skull?

      February 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • adh1729

      "what is the basis for your opinion – the emptiness of your skull?"

      Speak of your own intracranial vault.

      Ever heard of bleeding-heart, simple-minded Mike Huckabee?

      February 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  2. Dave Seavy

    She never said she was advocating his release – she said she hopes he gets well enough that someday he could be released. Putting the God issue aside, I think I can safely say the root of our society's problems today is total lack of respect for other people. Reading some of these posts validates my point. Name calling and putting someone down for their beliefs is very disrespectful. Agree with her, disagree with her – it's your right. But I see so much anger among the posts, and your disrespect is another example of people who disregard the feelings of others. You can disagree without name calling and putting her down.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Bob

      Careful, with that, Dave. Beliefs are not people. Beliefs should be critically examined, rather than simply respected, since they have so much impact on society. The unsupportable beliefs, such as mainstream Christianity, that clearly don't stand up in the face of science and reason, should simply be tossed out. It takes courage to do the tossing out, but it can be done.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Anyone who has the balls to come out and say that their beliefs should guide public policy should also be open to criticism. If those beliefs happen to be Bronze Age myths...............well, get ready to be laughed at.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • dave

      I believe I will never be obnoxious enogh to be an atheist

      February 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I believe I will never be obnoxious enogh to be an atheist"
      You must be a believer to think that being obnoxious is a requirement to be an atheist. All that is needed is a rational disbelief in fairy tales.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • adh1729

      "The unsupportable beliefs, such as mainstream Christianity, that clearly don't stand up in the face of science and reason" - says who?

      Are you aware how many great scientists and thinkers have been Christians?

      I have never found a genuine conflict between science, reason, and Christian beliefs, and I am extremely well acquainted with all 3 - likely a lot more than you, BTW.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bob

      adh1729, stow your steaming bullshit already, and your "smarter than thou" arrogance too. The conflicts between the absurd Christian babble and science are well documented. Here are just a few, of thousands:

      "In the beginning"
      When was the universe created?
      The Gap Theory 1:1-2

      The Genesis 1 creation account conflicts with the order of events that are known to science. In Genesis, the earth is created before light and stars, birds and whales before reptiles and insects, and flowering plants before any animals. The order of events known from science is just the opposite. 1:1-2:3

      God creates light and separates light from darkness, and day from night, on the first day. Yet he didn't make the light producing objects (the sun and the stars) until the fourth day (1:14-19). And how could there be "the evening and the morning" on the first day if there was no sun to mark them? 1:3-5

      God spends one-sixth of his entire creative effort (the second day) working on a solid firmament. This strange structure, which God calls heaven, is intended to separate the higher waters from the lower waters. 1:6-8

      Plants are made on the third day before there was a sun to drive their photosynthetic processes (1:14-19). 1:11

      God lets "the earth bring forth" the plants, rather than creating them directly. Maybe Genesis is not so anti-evolution after all. 1:11

      In an apparent endorsement of astrology, God places the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament so that they can be used "for signs". This, of course, is exactly what astrologers do: read "the signs" in the Zodiac in an effort to predict what will happen on Earth. 1:14

      God makes two lights: "the greater light [the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night." But the moon is not a light, but only reflects light from the sun. And why, if God made the moon to "rule the night", does it spend half of its time moving through the daytime sky? 1:16

      "He made the stars also." God spends a day making light (before making the stars) and separating light from darkness; then, at the end of a hard day's work, and almost as an afterthought, he makes the trillions of stars. 1:16

      "And God set them [the stars] in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth." 1:17

      In verse 11, God "let the earth bring forth" the plants. Now he has the earth "bring forth" the animals as well. So maybe the creationists have it all wrong. Maybe God created livings things through the process of evolution. 1:24

      God gave humans dominion over every other living thing on earth. 1:26

      God commands us to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over ... every living thing that moveth upon the earth." 1:28

      "I have given you every herb ... and every tree ... for meat."
      Since many plants have evolved poisons to protect against animals that would like to eat them, God's advice is more than a little reckless. Would you tell your children to go out in the garden and eat whatever plants they encounter? Of course not. But then, you are much nicer and smarter than God. 1:29

      All animals were originally herbivores. Tapeworms, vampire bats, mosquitoes, and barracudas - all were strict vegetarians, as they were created by God. 1:30

      "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." He purposefully designed a system that ensures the suffering and death of all his creatures, parasite and host, predator and prey. 1:31

      In Genesis 1 the entire creation takes 6 days, but the universe is 13.7 billion years old, with new stars constantly being formed. 1:31

      Humans were not created instantaneously from dust and breath, but evolved over millions of years from simpler life forms. 2:7

      God fashions a woman out of one of Adam's ribs.
      Because of this story, it was commonly believed (and sometimes it is still said today) that males have one less rib than females. When Vesalius showed in 1543 that the number of ribs was the same in males and females, it created a storm of controversy. 2:19

      God curses the serpent. From now on the serpent will crawl on his belly and eat dust. One wonders how he got around before - by hopping on his tail, perhaps? But snakes don't eat dust, do they? 3:14

      Because Adam listened to Eve, God cursed the ground and causes thorns and thistles to grow. Before this, according to the (false) Genesis story, plants had no natural defenses. The rose had no thorn, cacti were spineless, holly leaves were smooth, and the nettle had no sting. Foxgloves, oleander, and milkweeds were all perfectly safe to eat. 3:17-18

      Go here for more, you pathetic ignoramus:

      February 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      adh1729 it is a guarantee you are akin to a retarded mental midget. Quick, tell me, what is your favorite color - do not use Google to help you answer!

      February 3, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  3. MashaSobaka

    Murderers who show no remorse and who planned their crimes need to stay behind bars for good, no matter what their ages.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  4. AndrewMSP

    I thought this was going to be about the pros and cons of mandatory life sentences for jueveniles but instead I end up reading a Christian sermon. It's nice that the author has figured out a way to move on and to forgive her sister's murderer. Doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the indiviudual in question remains a menace to society....which my guess would be that he does.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • dave

      good thing no one makes policy based on your guesses

      February 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  5. TBM

    So... will she take responsibility for the people this guy kills when he is set free? Or is that just gods will?

    February 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  6. Sports Fan

    Great, no Ranch.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Dane Cook

      Chicken tenders. Smothered in sweet and sour sauce.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      The news reports are already starting to come in. Chicken wing shortage causing blackouts and hysteria. Now with the ranch thing, better strap in folks.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Rebel

      The only sauce I would ever put on chicken would be hot pan-gravy.

      I detest Ranch, BBQ, sweet & sour and the rest of those. And chicken wings are just silly food.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Eye4eye

    This guy should fry

    February 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • dave

      it is hard to get a job in the kitchen, right now he dries, in the laundry

      February 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Chad

    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 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.

    dramatic and authentic.
    All humans want the fire of righteousness to fall on "them", but not "us". Fortunately for me, a person like David Berkowitz can find forgiveness, simply because God extends it to ANYONE that accepts Jesus Christ.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Tiberius Kirk

      Naive and dumb.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      Chad, you are wise and chicken free.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • the gang

      (Gullible's Travels, part 2)

      February 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm |


    February 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • frank

      Gross. Well make sure you have either plenty of TP or the book of psalms from an old bible ready before you indulge.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  10. shawn

    ugh...more Jesus crap...can I get through a story w/o it involved magic and witchcraft?

    February 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      You're on the Belief Blog and you're complaining about seeing a religious story? Do you walk into symphonies and complain about the classical music too?

      February 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • dave

      atheism - the belief that being a jerk is a virtue

      February 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Wow, Dave. I guess that's something atheists learned from christians.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "atheism – the belief that being a jerk is a virtue"
      Pointing out how moronically stupid it is to put any faith in Bronze Age myths is a public service. The animosity that you seem to feel toward the providers of that service is probably the uneasy feeling that they are right.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • dale

      Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  11. Tiberius Kirk

    "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."

    You should have left it at that.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • dave

      because no one ever changes

      February 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  12. Jeffi

    I think life without parole is a deserving punishment for some people. This young man sounds like he was deserving of the sentence. I think he should spend his life behind bars where he belongs.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm |


    February 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

      Absurdity of longer name goon. NO DOGS!

      February 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Belvarie Varnado

    If it gives her peace to forgive , then that is good for her. I don't know if I could. Of course time does help dissiapate the hatred.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • John

      Forgiving frees her from most of the pain she'd have if she relived it each day by not forgiving. I can prove that to myself right now, if I chose not to forgive, I feel physical pain, so I forgive and move on, less the pain. Jesus healed both physically, and spiritually. Forgiveness was one of the tools he taught, to both help people feel better physically and spiritually, and to help them find God.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  15. Richardo

    I don't understand the author equating "forgiveness" for her sister's murderer and his being released from prison. Forgive him if you can and love him if you must... just don't release him from prison if you have any sympathy for those he will almost assuredly inflict further pain and suffering upon if released.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Forgiveness!

    A powerful act to begin the healing process in a persons life.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Earl Littlefield, Jr

      Now pray about your proposed actions. Christ did not take the thief off the cross when He saved him. Christians can serve Christ in prison as well as out. Certainly, forgiving him and praying for him are your duty to Christ for your own soul. Jesus did not decry the death penalty for himself nor others.
      You state that the one who killed your sister is not yet ready for release and may never be. In several places, the Bible admonsihes us to discipline our children and train them in the way they should go. Many people and groups (including churches & religions" have mis-interpreted the Bible and committed atrocities as the "Inquisitions", the "Crusades" and the hatred of Jews "because they killed Christ".

      February 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Dane Cook

      Moot point, Earl, as the kid didn't GET the DP...and PLENTY of atrocities habe been in the name of the Christian God. Can it.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  17. ejsathome

    You can pray all you want, but how would you feel if your prayers were answered, this monster got out, and he killed again. I couldn't disagree with you more on this one. He deserves to rot in jail for the rest of his life, no question. He is no better than the dirt under our feet. My advice: don't waste another minute of your prayers on that piece of garbage, and get on with your life.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Robble

      I totally agree.
      There are some people who are just pools of vomit that need to be cleaned up.
      In fact, the only sure way to make sure that this killer NEVER kills again, is to kill him too.

      February 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  18. TWt

    But when they returned home from a family dinner celebrating Nancy's father's birthday on a clear moonlit Saturday night last April, an intruder surprised them. The next day the Langerts failed to show up at church or answer their phone. At 4 P.M. Nancy's father went to the town house and discovered their bodies lying faceup in the basement. Richard had been handcuffed and shot in the back of the head. Nancy had been shot in the elbow, side and stomach. With her finger, she had tried to scrawl a message in blood. At first, rumors circulated that the letters spelled IRA. Later, police concluded that the message was a heart next to the letter U.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Dwight

      A heavy story.

      February 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  19. john

    Here in Texas, our prosecutors would eat him for lunch and s–t in his sack. Multiple murder killers have no place in society. If he had been eighteen, welcome to death row.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • lol??

      Texans gave the wurld the Great Society and a dead patriot named Lee OSWALD.

      February 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    Muhammad was the Son of a swine and rat.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Thomas Paine

      I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

      February 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • End Religion

      Rainer I think the steroids have finally affected you. I can hear your balls shrinking.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

      and further more, Mohammad was borne in the YEAR OF PIG, as per Chines calendar.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
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About this blog

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.