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. Carol K

    Mario, and TruthBeTold; you cannot wrap your mind around this kind of love and forgiveness unless you know God – the one she is talking about. If you ever open your heart to experience Him, all doubts will be removed.
    He made it possible for me to forgive a husband who had abused and hurt me, lied to me, cheated on me repeatedly and tried to leave me without a dime after 33 years of marriage where I took care of a home and raising a child and worked because he insisted I work. He tried to strip away everything I had even when he learned the grief and stress had brought on cancer. But unforgiveness is also like a cancer – it eats away every part of you. That is why the Lord told us to forgive – not even so much for the other guy but for ourselves. Once I began to pray for my ex and ask God to help me forgive him (none of us can do this of our own nature) – the burden truly lifted and I began to live again. My life has turned incredible and without a doubt superior blessings from God's hand because I chose to forgive.
    Beautiful story and I understand her heart completely.

    February 3, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Edweird69

      Give yourself the credit for your life changes...it had nothing to do with an imaginary friend. People make life changes all the time, without the aid of inventing a magic being.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Edweird69

      Also, you think this is a "beautiful story". I find it horrifying! There is nothing beautiful about this story...whatsoever!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Poltergeist

      This is because an unforgiving personality is key to being a militant Athiest. You have to be not only incapable of forgiving the people that actually wronged you, you also have to be able to project that anger at any of the few billion members of that group. Projected anger on that scale precludes the concept of actual forgiveness.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • Edweird69

      @Polter – I'm a militant atheist, and I've forgiven lots of people, for lots of things. And guess what...I didn't require a blood sacrifice to do so.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Stop lying about atheists. What you said is absolutely untrue.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      I felt for your situation. And that's exactly what I meant. Just like the author, you forgave for your own sake, not for the husband who abused you. Your "love" is for yourself, not for him. There's a difference there.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Damocles


      Let's tell the truth here. I can forgive a lie, possibly a theft, maybe even cheating. Murder does not enti-tle the murderer to my forgiveness, at all. It is not wrong to punish a murderer in a way that they have no chance of ever taking the breath of a free person.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  2. pachy

    As an attorney, Ms. Bishop should know better – this is not a civil case, this is a criminal case. The Bishop family did not bring charges – the State did. Part of the State's duty is to protect its citizens, often by sending people to jail.

    I for one do not want this person free to roam around the country.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  3. JOJO kaputz

    Repent on your repention. That young man, and many others like him have the devil inside of them. They deserve to rot in hell. There is no changing the devil!

    That man gets out, he will kill again! He will have a lifetime to do so.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Edweird69

      Jojo - There is no such thing as "the devil". The perpetrator is criminally insane. His behavior has a name. It has nothing to do with devils. If it did, that means god knew this horrible event was going to happen, and did nothing to prevent it. Therefore, god is guilty of neglect. Since neither exist, your statement makes no sense.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • william

      No doubt. I believe if he's ever released he should be hunted down and killed.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  4. Robert Brown

    I think I will start lobbying for the death penalty for juvenile murderers, instead of letting them off with a life sentence. We let out too many violent criminals already and most of them reoffend. Why do we do this to ourselves, because of bleeding hearts like the lady who wrote this, if you can’t stomach the punishment, don’t watch and don’t do the crime.

    The only reason we have any law and order in this country is because we have law enforcement officers risking their lives to protect us and we have laws that make sure those who are criminally minded are separated from the rest of us.

    I am glad she can forgive the killer and hope he is saved while he is serving his life in prison. At least he will be able to go to heaven when he dies. I wonder is the author would let released murderers come live with her when they get out?

    February 3, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      So this guy brutally murders, but if he gets "saved" in prison, then heaven awaits.
      But me who have done nothing wrong except for the crime of not believiing, I get eternity in hell.
      Your god has a seriously messed up sense of justice.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Robert Brown

      Richard Cranium,
      Yeah that trips people up. Jesus taught it in a parable, I will go look up the scripture for you if you would like. It was about a guy who hired some workers, one guy came first thing in the morning and agreed to work the whole day for a penny, and later on another showed up and got offered the same penny. This went on all day, even the guy who hired on right before quitting time got the penny.
      So, it is possible to live like the devil your whole life and on your death bed accept Christ as your savior, but I wouldn’t take the risk.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Robert Brown

      Richard Cranium,
      I just realized that doesn’t answer your question. You are comparing the very minor white collar crime of unbelief with the dastardly murder. The unbelief prevents you from agreeing with God and seeing that you are a guilty sinner in need of savior. This guy committed murder literally, if you have ever hated another human, you have committed murder in your heart according to God.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Richard Cranium

      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 9:52 am |
  5. Edweird69

    Here's what I'd do. I'd do everything I could to get this creep out of jail. You bet. Then, when he least expects it, I'd show him what it "feels like to be killed".

    February 3, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Damocles


      I like that idea.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  6. AYid

    I have learned that in the Islamic culture the family of a crime victim has a great degree of control over whether or not, and how, the criminal is punished and, in fact, can buy his freedom by paying "blood money" to the victim's family. I see now that in the Christian world there is this concept where the family of the victim can effect a degree of forgiveness to the murderer. The problem is, in our system of justice society as a whole is considered the victim. We all must be made whole after one of our innocents is taken by violence. Youth can not be a factor here. How many of us at the age of 15 decided to kill someone because it might be fun? Such a monster must be punished and kept away from society. Frankly, though this is not the forum for it, I believe capital punishment would have been appropriate here.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Edweird69

      Good point! I like what you said about it impacting society, not just the family of the victim(s).

      February 3, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  7. tuffyturf

    Bible bumpers... Let him out, them beat him to death with a bible...

    February 3, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Edweird69

      So many Xtians...so few lions.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  8. taxedmore

    That's right lady – murder is OK. Goodie for you.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Disgusted

      I have to say, I am apalled at the comments that most people have made here. I don't believe in God, and I don't know that it would be within my capabilities to forgive someone who murdered someone in my family. That being said, I can't abide the fact that so many people would trash on this woman who has found a way to deal with the grief that this person has caused her. Who the hell are any of you to judge her? I'd bet most, if not all of you, have not had to suffer the loss that she has, but you just can't help heaping more pain on top. It's not as though she said that the man should not be punished.

      If you don't believe that God has made us all, then you could at least recognize that we are all made of the same biological material, and that we share something in common with killers, rapists and the like, whether we want to admit it or not. We are all human, and falable. Even if you believe that you would never be driven to harm others, to believe that some people are just "good" and some "evil" is more childish and over simplified of a viewpoint than anything you have accused this woman of. Maybe forgiveness lets her sleep at night, instead of being wrapped in the self-righteous rage that most of you seem to feel she should share with you, but you want to tear that away from her. If adding insult to a victim's injury is what helps you sleep at night, than maybe you should take a look at why you need to cause that kind of hurt in someone. Isn't that a piece of the same defect that makes people kill? You damn him for hurting her, and then you add hurt on top.

      If it is so obvious to you that the man will never repent his actions, then the author wouldn't be in favor of letting him out of prison anyway, and most all of your points become moot. With no practical purpose left to your rantings, it's all just self righteous anger, and rather pathetic at that.

      I know I spelled a few words wrong in my post, so now those of you who have nothing left to cling to can sit back and attack my grammar. Disgusting little trolls, most all of you.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  9. ImForgiven2

    This is just like what the writer of FORGIVING THE DEAD MAN WALKING wrote about–her path to forgiveness for the man who nearly killed her–a movie was made about him. Forgiveness is not easy and it can be a daily choice, but we have God as our supreme example who loved us before we loved Him and gave Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. Thank you, Jeanne, for being courageous in sharing your story of God's faithfulness in your life!

    February 3, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  10. Mario

    I don't understand how a person can be intelligent enough to be an attorney, and believe in a god at the same time. What happened, happened! And maybe it's too exhausting to keep fighting for a cause, and it's ok to say I give up, and I need to move on with my life. But don't give credit to religion and make believe gods!

    February 3, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  11. TruthBeTold

    I feel for you, your sister and her family. But this article is of typical religious hypocrisy.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  12. Matt

    "We can’t love what he did. But we have to love him, because God made him for a purpose.”

    This is where you see how delusional she has become...Obviously his purpose was to kill your sister by your standards...which intern means that everyone who does a sinister act has done it with a purpose which was MADE by god....so Humans are not at fault as everything we do is predestined and with a purpose created by God.

    Which raises another question...why can't you love what he did? It was his purpose was it not? A purpose made for him by God?...You are essentially saying you do not like the purpose (esp this one) that God has decided to make for him? How could you not love it? Isn't god love? and always right? Don't question his divine command and creating purpose for us all, just accept that it is the right thing to do....that the Juvenile had a purpose to kill your sister, and made by God, and god is never wrong...so why would you not love what he did if God made this purpose for him....

    My f&%^king brain hurts with this religious nonsense...

    February 3, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Mario

      Two thumbs up, Matt

      February 3, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Edweird69

      Thanks for posting that! You just said what I could not put into words myself. You rock!

      February 3, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  13. jeff

    For any crime we need to listen to the victim.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  14. warytraveler

    What is this garbage doing on the front page?

    February 3, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • midwest rail

      Aggravating you ?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  15. james

    I believe that if a person takes another persons life their life should be taken from them and saying spending life in prison is a better punishment then death is pathetic they never gave the person the killed a chance at life why should we

    February 3, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  16. Odinson

    Personally, I would have said let the killer out...so I could get my hands on him personally.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Bucko

      I'd like to see him on the business end of my .44

      February 3, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • SK

      Everyone deserves to be forgiven. There should be a punishment and a harsh one of course. Some crimes are horrible. Have'nt you ever done something horrible? The loss of three lives and anyone loved one is unthinkable. I commend her choosing to forgive. If you don't believe in God, that's your choice. I'm sorry for whatever pain you have been through in your life that would turn you away from believing in a higher power, but something made you. Things don't just "appear", whether is God, Allah, Buddah, ect. There is a force that makes the universe work.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  17. diana

    Hitler was a purpose- driven kid once, bless his sweet little juvenile heart. Thank goodness he grew up to carry out his plan. People who think the way this woman does scare me.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Bucko

      Yes, the fact the Hitler was born, rose to power and launched the most destructive war in human history, and even lived when a bomb was exploded three feet from him, while persons farther away in the room died, makes you wonder about"god's plan", doesn't it? Until you realize that god does not exist.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  18. Christi

    Forgiveness is as much for the forgiver as the forgiven. Jesus does forgive our sins, however that doesn't mean that he wipes away the consequences. When Jesus died on the cross, he forgave the thief because he asked for forgiveness. It doesn't seem as though this young man has done that. But even so, he didn't say, "you are forgiven so get off the cross and go live a happy and productive life." He still had to die an excruciating death in retribution for the crimes he committed. His reward came after he had paid for his crimes.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • rick

      "Jesus does forgive our sins, however that doesn't mean that he wipes away the consequences"

      What after death consequence does the murderer have if Jesus wipes away his sin?

      February 3, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  19. IgnoranceIsBliss

    Amazing.... forgiveness had to come with the "God" label. I understand if you feel the need to forgive, it's healthy and often allows the family to move on beyond hate for the criminal to loving memories for those lost. But why do you have to do it through "God" – are you not intelligent enough to do it on your own? It's this lack of ability to think for ones self that angers me the most about "religion". This man clearly belongs in prison for the rest of his life... he was not remorseful in any way, and will reoffend given the chance. But I'm glad you're at peace with that, seeing as he is a Child of God and all.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Jeff Brown

      There is a difference between religion and faith. I personally believe that religion stands in the way of faith. People like you complain about those who have faith or religion, and are hypocritical enough to do so publicly the same way that you chastise us for talking about God.

      February 3, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • IgnoranceIsBliss

      I don't think I mentioned the word "faith" anywhere in my comment... but thanks for putting words in my mouth.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • KL

      So you imply that by finding forgiveness "through God" somehow makes this person less intelligent than you? What does it matter the road this person took? How is one road better than another? Who are you to judge how someone finds forgiveness? And why does it make you so angry that people find their peace this way? What angers ME so much is someone like YOU judging others for how they live their life...pretty hypocritical since you are judging how this woman found her peace.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  20. lauralooch

    It is time that we had a national conversation in this nation about the place of justice, mercy, and wisdom in the public sphere. It is good that Ms. Bishop has found some spiritual peace; I am happy for her. And I agree that incarceration itself needs to change its face radically. All that having been said, the crime of murder is one that is very problematic for talk of mercy and second chances. Justice itself would seem to dictate that a murderer should pay with his life. If we are not going to take his life, how then can there be any possible expiation? I think they should have a choice: death (quick death, not 20 years on death row) or a lifetime submitted to medical/psych/genetic/epigenetic testing so that we as a society can get to the bottom of WHY these horrible tragedies occur. Ms. Bishop, you cannot just let him go. Redemption for him is only barely possible, and it cannot happen on the outside, putting other innocents at risk. NO.

    February 3, 2013 at 8:44 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.