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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. Thoth

    Well, she's enti.tled to her opinion. For me, if you kill someone outside self-defense or accidental you should be executed regardless of age. Here in the real world, on this planet we should require earthly justice. If you believe in some version of god, then let him/her 'it' apply whatever justice it chooses post earthly justice.

    February 4, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • lol??

      She's an activist. Remember the socialists disguised as Christians in the WCTU? They gave society prohibition and enriched the mob.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  2. kder

    Go ahead and forgive this killer in your heart if you think it will help your personal grieving process. but lets continue to protect the rest of the citizens by keeping him in jail forever.
    Unfortunately you can't argue with arrogance. A person's arrogance allows them to think that because they feel a certain way then all people should see it their way.
    Guess what, i understand how you feel. just do not agree with you so kindly leave the killer in prison...kthx.

    on a personal note; it would be great if this killer was getting some sort of metal health care but i seriously doubt he is.

    February 4, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • jakedog

      Blow his brains out. starting with a gut shot. He wanted to now what it was like to killl someone? Now he will know what it like to die. slowly. We can all go to his funeral and dance on his grave.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  3. Ray

    Ms. Bishop,
    Let God judge this murderer, when he dies. You are embracing the possibility of a cold-hearted murderer being freed... but neglect to ask the question 'What happens when he murders again?' Will you be able to live with THAT? With playing a role in the murder of other people? Drop the religious nonsense... it's making you irrational. Some humans are born damaged and bestial, and there's no wishful thinking that will fix that. All you can really do is lock them up or put them down.

    February 4, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  4. adm

    There is an extraordinary healing in the act of forgiveness. This does not mean that one forgets, lest the lessons be repeated over and over. But it means not to dwell in the memory; to be consumed and remain a victim.
    Thank you Jeanne.

    February 4, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • Saraswati

      If someone hasn't developed by 16 the mental capacities to. make them feel bad about murder, they are unlikely to do so. A normal sixteen year old feels compassion and empathy. You can look at this deficiency as criminal or mental illness, but either way, until we are able to reverse it, such people need to be kept out of society.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  5. CWB

    >>O’Brien told me something true – that Nancy’s killer and I are both children of God, equally beloved and equally fallen.<<

    That's where I quit reading.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Gerald R.

      lol - when I stopped believing in a god was when I learned that the protestant denomination I was raised in believed that even a "sin" like lying about taking a cookie from a cookie jar was as bad, in "God's eye," as mass murder.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • NII

      Gerald and CWB
      I think u guys stopped church out of immaturity rather than reasoning it out.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Manny

      If taking a cookie is as bad as mass murder, and getting forgiveness from God is as easy for both, then that's license to be the worst one can possibly be. Why be a chump, and live a relatively good life without killing anyone, when you can run wild, kill dozens of people, ra_pe, torch orphanages, and blow up whole villages and then just ask for God's forgiveness a few seconds before death and ... Bingo ... you're sitting pretty in heaven? By this system, Hitler himself could be looking down from heaven at all the Jews he victimized burning once again in Hell just because they didn't believe in something. Yeah, that's "divine justice" for you!

      February 4, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  6. Gerald R.

    More evidence that a belief in "God" destroys one's common sense.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • NII

      One line of stupidity.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  7. Kaan

    Ok so lets use God to forgive a murderer. Another example of how blinding and illogical religion and God are.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • NII

      Scientists say it works though. Guess dumbeists believe not. lol.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • End Religion

      citation, nii?

      February 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  8. Evenstar13

    "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. " Matthew 18:21-22

    February 4, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Ray

      Once fooled, shame on you. Twice fooled, shame on me.

      The Scots are wiser by miles than most of what's in the bible.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Erik Schaefer

      So, 490 then?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • lol??

      The shooter has a brother?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  9. pandoramn

    Forgiveness does not mean turning your back on evil. I do not believe that someone who "wants to find out what its like to kill someone" can ever be trusted in society again. Does that mean that I have hatred toward them – no, it does not. I pray for guidance whenever these subjects come up for discussion and my heart tells me that this is a part of the responsibility for "knowledge of good and evil" that Adam and Eve took on in the Garden of Eden. That responsibility includes protecting innocents from the disease and evil in the minds of people such as these. I believe wholeheartedly in the death penalty – swift and as painless as possible, but death. God is the final judge – that is true, but when confronted with such cold, black-hearted evil as this, it is cowardly and wrong to make excuses and turn away from our own responsibility.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  10. heykat

    One who commits an act of violence under pressure or in the heat of the moment can be rehabilitated. You cannot instill a conscience in a sociapath. Efforts to rehabilitate them just teach them to be better fakers.This criminal has not only a history of violence but a demonstrated lack of conscience and zero remorse. Jeanne Bishop wants to to turn a coldblooded, calculated killer loose on the public in the interest of her own spiritual growth. Unconcionable.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Saraswati

      We understand the biology of empathy now. In some cases killings occur because empathy is only applied to a subset of people, as in war or gang violence or spur of the moment actions. And in those cases people change after war to apply empathy to the broader group. But a true sociopath would need to develop the entire brain structures for empathy, and this is very unlikely to happen. There's some research on using very intensive therapy on the young, but this is not that situation, and the success rate in treating true antisocial disorders is so low as to not be something to gamble on when a person has already killed.

      February 4, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • NII

      Saraswati
      The biology or the psychology of empathy? If you are not sure which subject you are talking about then how do you claim so much?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Based on the posts I've read, Saraswati is more likely to know more about anything than you are, Nitwit.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Saraswati

      @NII, neurobiology is a component of the field of psychology, as well as of other fields. In psychology biology is studied as behavioral neuroscience, psychobiology, or neuropsychology, and is dependent on an understanding of how the brain works.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Someone should check to see IF Nll's brain works.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • NII

      Meaning that you are talking of the psychology of empathy not the biology of it, Stupid!

      February 4, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The stupid one here doesn't appear to be Saraswati.

      Really, Nll, is English a second language for you?

      February 4, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • NII

      No Tom girl
      It is my 300th language!
      El Stupidata!

      February 4, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Saraswati

      @NII, You really don't understand the field of psychology at all, do you? Studying the brain and it's biological structures is a part of the field of psychology. I don't know how many different ways I can say this. Take a few psych classes. The biology is not separable from the "psychological". Psychologists may differ in the degree to which they use mental vs biological language, but they are all talking about the same thing which can be understood on multiple levels.

      Saying a biological description of psychology is not psychology is like saying talking about neurotransmitters isn't biology but chemistry. No, neurotransmitters are a chemical part of neurobiology, which is, in turn, a biological part of psychology. Look, take a few classes. I don't think you really realize just how out of your depth you are here.

      February 4, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Tom, I don't think he/she is having an ESL issue so much as a general literacy issue. Sometimes when vocabulary and general knowledge are that lacking, nothing we say on a message board is really going to be able to fill in those gaps.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • NII

      Saraswati,
      You were talking about the "biology of empathy" and I corrected you that it is the "psychology" of empathy. I do know of all that you said. Just mind what you say to the public as being poorly educated is worse than illiteracy.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nll, the illiterate one here is you. Saraswati made it quite clear that neurobiology is part of psychology. If you can't figure out what that means, I don't know that anyone can help you.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • NII

      Saraswati, don't worry about Tommylina, she won't understand neurobiology anytime soon!

      February 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nll, you are mistaken in thinking that biology has no relationship to psychology. If that were true, substances like serotonin would not affect the workings of the mind. They do. That's why antidepressants and antipsychotics are used to treat mental illness, ding-dong.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Do you deny that empathy causes certain chemical reactions to occur in the brain? What do you think that is? It's biologic in nature. What part of that don't you get?

      February 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • NII

      Tommylina,
      Did I get you to make an intelligent statement here? I'm so proud of you and no swear word either!! As stated before I understand psychology, psychiatry and biology very well. He did not state his sentence well that's all. Enjoy your day!

      February 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It was perfectly clear to everyone but you, Nll. Now run off and try to have a clue next time.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @NII, I said biology of empathy and I meant biology of empathy. In this case that biology can be viewed as a subtopic of psychology, but it is still the biology I'm specifically referencing. If it makes you feel better call it the cognitive science of empathy, but that's more general than what I meant. If you want to believe there are imaginary lines around these fields separating them into neat distinct little blocks go for it, but you'll be living in a world of your own creation all on your own.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @NII, Try looking at the ti'tles of 30 or 40 research articles in this area and you'll see the standard ways that the biological components of this research are referenced.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "As stated before I understand psychology, psychiatry and biology very well."

      Apparently you use the words "very well" in place of "not at all."

      February 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @NII, My point is that it is our biological understanding that tells us how difficult it will be to change ones capacity for empathy. Our understanding of the psychology and sociology have not yet told us enough to make that assumption.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Heck, all you have to do is Google "biology of empathy" and you get tons of hits.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think NII misread my first comment as defining the biological component rather than providing background as to why the biological information indicates difficulties for changing people. He/she then decided rather than addressing points to focus on what would have been the equivalent of a typo (under his reading) to out of hand dismiss anything I said. This would make him/her just sloppy and trivial in focus but not totally illiterate, which is somewhat a less depressing interpretation on which to sign off.

      February 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  11. Lisa Z.

    I really admire the strength and humility you've shown, to not only make such a fundamental change, but to act out your faith in a way that really honors your beliefs. I'm sorry for your loss, but your journey is a real inspiration and an example that your children can really look up to and try to strive for as they grow into adulthood. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  12. Brett

    I also don't think that children should be given life in prison without the possibility of parole, but a 16 year-old is not a child. At 16 you are fully capable of understanding the consequences of your actions and of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Unless some evidence were to come out that exonerates him of the crime, this man (and I use that word intentionally) should be locked up for the rest of his life with no hope of getting out.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • kenny

      16 year olds should be able to vote and be independent from their parents then, if they're so mature?

      February 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

      This....

      By 16 you ve got a pretty good idea of right and wrong...even if you ve got the most hands off parents in the world.

      just as pro lifers should be forced to adopt unwanted kids, I think most of the religious Forgive! crowd should have to participate in the rehab and housing of the people they propose to free. you know ...so that they can lead by example:) I think when its time to put up or shut up most of these guys will fall silent and melt into the backround..

      But then...the victim is the target really...prime time to set that hook.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Kenny, humans are not simple enti.ties that mature with every capacity in synch and suddenly one day, bang...they're adult. We have different ages for all sorts of behaviors for a reason.

      The brain doesn't actually finish developing new structures until age 25 or so...we're hardly going to refuse to hand out drivers licenses until then; it's just not practical. Peak decision making on complex issues peaks around age 50' do we wait to apply full punishments until then? No...we have t draw lines even it it's hard.

      And here we draw a line based on whether the person's behavior at a given age is predictive of future behaviors. At 16 an individual who is inclines to take stupid risks with their friends or shoplift is unlikely to do those same behaviors at 30, so we punish that person as a child for those behaviors. A sixteen year old serial ra.pist will almost certainly still be a 30 year old se.x offender. That's just the sad reality we have to work with. Each type of crime has it's own risk rate and is a different indicator of underlying traits of the individual.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • lol??

      SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT..... forced? Just another mobster bully.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • kenny

      Saraswati
      Do you have some research to back up those age claims?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

      @ lol??

      mobster bully? really? no...its just i have a problem with those that play their part in a problem ...and then are nowhere to be found when the bill is to be payed.

      Forcing people to have a kid that neither was prepared for sets the stage for all sorts of misfortune, both for the children and the parents... an unwanted child born here is far more likely to be caught up in the system....

      In the case of the "no child should be serving a life sentence" should have to watch their backs around the very people they helped to unleash on the general public.

      both these types are nowhere to be found when that unwanted kid lands in prison.... when that killer child is released and goes on another rampage.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Saraswati

      @kenny,

      I don't know what numbers specifically you are looking for. Prefrontal cortex development around age 25 is well established as cited here in the MIT Young Adult Development Project:

      http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html

      Just google the rest...I'm not quoting anything obscure or controversial.

      February 4, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

      @ Kenny

      I am genuinely curious... What would you have us do with child offenders that commit crimes of this calibre. Do you truly believe this guy is someone that can ever be trusted in society?

      Saraswati has it dialed....solid.

      February 4, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  13. Grim Reaper

    Put all cold blooded murderers down like the diseased animals they are.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Manny

      Who will be left to testify in churches regarding the saving power of Jesus' precious love if you go around killing all the sinners?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • lol??

      Is it your concern, manny?

      February 4, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Manny

      lol??
      A lack of scu_mballs testifying in church will make my occasional visits there rather dull, I have to admit, but it wouldn't concern me beyond that.

      February 4, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  14. ILT

    The forgiveness that she speaks of takes time, a close relationship with God, and can only come from God. Hate will destroy your soul, forgiving willl renew your soul. Now the rest is between this man and God!

    February 4, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Manny

      Too bad God isn't a Christian then. Condemning nonbelievers to hell must be ruining his soul. No forgiveness there. Might explain all the baby killing and genocide in the bible, though.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • lol??

      Manny explain all the killin' that 1 out of 3 mommies do in americult.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Manny

      lol??

      ?????????

      February 4, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  15. lol??

    In the church there is such a thing as tough love, at least when the mommies ain't runnin' things..........."1Cr 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

    February 4, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • TDM

      Heil lol???, full of hate.
      A good misogynist is a dead misogynist. This woman is a much better human than yiu could EVER hope to aspire to. She will make it into the Kingdom of Heaven; you will be going south for eternity. You are no Christian.

      February 4, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • SHrUb....gOd wIlls iT.....

      Ahh the License to Kill .... peaceful religion....useful line ...used to great effect by the three dogmas of the desert god.

      February 4, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • lol??

      So TDM, you approve of the slaying of Paul? Abel, too? Where do you draw the line? Killer.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • lol??

      Your psychology is built on a sandbar. Freud had a wet nurse just like all his rich pals. That's how he became deceived.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  16. James

    I can understand what you say. I also feel that he committed a horrific act that you loved ones can never recover from. Should he pay for the rest of his life? I still think yes. You will feel the pain and sarrow for the rest of yours. If he wishes forgivness, that can be given at the perlie gates. As for now I have no trouble with giveing him an appointment.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  17. lol??

    In the church people get convicted and then elected. In Illinois the governors get elected and then convicted.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  18. Glyde

    I think you are selling out your slain family when you forgive their killer. You may wish to try and understand but in the end this creature is too dangerous to have around others. Like a rabid dog it must be put down. Not a thing to be happy about but a necessary act.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  19. lol??

    "Her lobbying efforts helped convince Illinois Gov. Quinn to sign a death penalty abolition bill into law in 2011."......................Copyright © 2013 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. Quinn was the original tea bagger before he had a change of heart and defected.

    February 4, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  20. lol??

    "Ms. Bishop defends the indigent as an Ass*istant Public Defender in the Office of the Cook County (IL) Public Defender."..................Copyright © 2013 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

    February 4, 2013 at 8:56 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.