Motivated by faith, defense attorney forgives sister's killer

On April 7, 1990, Nancy Bishop Langert, while slowly bleeding to death, drew a heart and “u” with her own blood. The message: love you. Nancy died within minutes. So did her unborn child. Her husband was already dead. All murdered by a teenager in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

For more than two decades, Jeanne Bishop, Nancy’s sister, has tried to keep the message of “love,” and Nancy’s voice, alive. A journey of forgiveness and reconciliation has Nancy now calling the person who murdered her family a “friend.”

Jeanne says her journey began when she walked out of the courthouse, following the sentencing of the 16-year-old killer, David Biro, who was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

“When he was convicted and sentenced and taken away and I thought forever, that was the last time I’d ever seen him, I knew there wasn’t all there could be to this story. If that were the case, it would almost be as if Nancy’s voice had stopped speaking,” Jeanne told Fox 9.

Forgiving a Killer

Motivated by her faith, and a conversation with a pastor, Jeanne would eventually decide to forgive Biro, who seemed “cocky” in the courtroom, and who seemed to lack remorse — at least in Jeanne’s mind.

“I really came to the point of forgiveness of him before ever expressing it to him. Just doing it in my own mind and heart, really out of obedience to my faith and in memory of Nancy. Not wanting her memorial to be hatred and vengeance. But also for me, because of this notion that hating another person is like drinking poison and expecting that other person to die. I forgave because I wanted to unchain myself from him,” Jeanne told Fox 9.

A Conversation with a Former Prosecutor

While Jeanne, her family, and her friends, knew she had forgiven Biro, the killer himself had not heard from Jeanne. That would change following a conversation with Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor, and a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.

“We were at dinner one night, and she was talking about David Biro, and one of the things that came up and she was struggling with how do you forgive someone who’s remorseless. I asked her, ‘how do you know that,’ because she’d never talked to him. She’d never said his name. And she said, ‘well, at trial, he denied everything.’ I said ‘that was when he was 16 years old, that was a long time ago.’ Two decades had passed since then. She had that moment of reflection,” Osler told Fox 9.

Jeanne Writes a Letter

Jeanne decided to write Biro a letter, writing: “You’ve heard news of me of how I’ve forgiven you for killing my family members. I never conveyed that forgiveness to you directly. I’m sorry. That was wrong, too. To tell other people and not tell the most important person of all: you.”

Biro wrote back fifteen pages on both sides, telling Jeanne, “I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences and apologize to you.” He concluded his letter by writing, “If my words fall short in their beauty, please know that they were sincere.”

Jeanne and Biro Meet

Jeanne and Biro decided to meet.

“It was a very respectful meeting, difficult, that first one, but profoundly healing and helpful,” said Jeanne, describing Biro as very different from the cocky teen she saw in court. “When I first saw him, he looked so nervous, more nervous than I was. He just flushed when he saw me.”

Biro would tell Jeanne that he had planned to wait for her sister and brother-in-law to come home, and then steal the keys to their car. But he panicked. “When I walked in, what I was most interested to hear the trajectory from how you go from being a little boy growing up in the same town where my boys are growing up to being a 16-year-old who puts a gun to the back of  a grown man’s head and pulls the trigger, and then fires on his pregnant wife. I need to understand how you get from that point to that point.”

Jeanne and Biro would meet again. And then again. They now meet about every couple months. “But can I call myself his friend? And I think the answer is yes,” Jeanne told Fox 9. “He’s someone who’s deeply sorry and remorseful for what he did.”

Not everyone was happy with Jeanne’s decisions to forgive and meet with Biro. “I got the most unbelievable hate mail. People calling me selfish and satanic and gullible,” Jeanne said, adding that one person wrote the killer went to the wrong house.

“Change of Heart”

To explain her decision, and spread her message, Jeanne wrote a book, “Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with my Sister’s Killer.”

“People have this idea that victims’ families want this mythical thing called closure, where there’s this neat psychological wrapping up of the grief and pain you felt over the death of a loved one. And I don’t want to close my love for Nancy, because I’ll feel that grief for as long as I live. Because I knew I would never stop loving her,” Jeanne told Fox 9. “I wanted her to be open, to be this living and breathing thing in me that motivates me to live well.”

Jeanne is a public defender in Cook County, Illinois. The job includes representing men and women accused of murder.

“This small story illuminates the larger issue in society: what do we do with people who had done wrong? Do we say we are done with you forever, we are never taking a second look at you, or do we say we are going to find a way to bring you back?” Jeanne said.