LINKS to other
website stories on Restorative Justice
What is Restorative Justice?
The topic is too large and complex for any explanation
that would suffice here (google it and take a look around), but basically it is
a different approach entirely to criminal justice that is based on tribal models
going back to indigenous New Zealand, and other tribal cultures. It treats
criminal behavior as a problem that the whole community needs to address. They
would come together, often in circles - the victim, the offender, their
families, community leaders, and work to solve the problem with a focus on
restoring however possible the losses to the victim. The offender has to take
full responsibility, and devote whatever time needed to healing the wound they
have caused - that is often a process that takes a while.
Restorative Justice is all about healing the victims.
It generally has come to be practiced in three ways:
1. Victim-Offender Facilitated Dialogue
2. Family Circles
3. Family Group larger discussions involving members of the community as well
"RJ" is hard to talk about with murder victims family
members, who often prefer the term Transformative Justice, since you cannot
restore to them what has been lost. Property crimes are most often places where
mainstream criminal justice professionals feel most comfortable using the RJ
But increasingly, violent crime is seen as being
approached best by a philosophy that does not waste human life, even that of an
offender, but one that focuses on doing whatever can be done to help the victims
and their families move to a place of maximum possible healing. Its hard, but it
can and does happen.
The reason that IllinoisVictims.Org cares about supporting
discussions about better ways to bring RJ principles into the Illinois Criminal
Justice system, is because we believe more of the focus has to be on healing the
In the current system, immense resources are expended on
the offenders but many different agencies and individuals at every step of the
process. Almost none, from beginning to end, are expended on the victim.
We invite further dialogue wherever possible about ways to
bring RJ principles into every aspect of what we do.
your thoughts and anecdotes on issues of Restorative Justice.
In March 2008 the state of Colorado became the first U.S. state to mandate
that judges offer accused young offenders the legal option to voluntarily
participate in processes like restorative conferences.
This article (part two of two) by Joshua Wachtel covers several Colorado
programs that are using restorative practices with youth in schools and youth
justice settings and includes interviews with
practitioners and administrators.
To read the article, please go to: http://www.iirp.org/realjustice/library/CO_RJ2.html
THEATER AT DOMINICAN UNIVERSITY CREATES VICTIM OFFENDER DIALOGUE
Read Pioneer Press coverage of the March 2008 event
'Dead Man Walking' author joins panel
March 12, 2008
By MYRNA PETLICKI
There are few issues as controversial as the death penalty. Dominican University
is addressing that topic March 18 through a staged reading of "Dead Man Walking"
by Tim Robbins and a post-play discussion designed to offer a balanced
perspective and involve the audience.
The post-show panel will include Sister Helen Prejean, whose story formed the
basis for a best selling book and an award-winning Tim Robbins movie also called
"Dead Man Walking." In 1982, Prejean served as a spiritual advisor to a death
row inmate in Louisiana's Angola Prison. She attempted to prevent his execution
and, when her efforts were unsuccessful, walked with him to the electric chair.
Despite Prejean being an anti-death penalty advocate, the issue is addressed
from both sides in the book, movie and play.
Bill Jenkins of Northfield, assistant professor and technical director and
designer for Dominican's theater department, will play the part of a death
penalty attorney in the staged reading and participate on the panel.
"My wife and I are close friends of Sister Helen and have been working with her
as anti-death penalty advocates for many years," Jenkins said. "When Sister
Helen told us that she had a staged version of the movie written, we thought
this would be great to have at Dominican."
Close to home
Jenkins brings a unique perspective to his role in the show because he is the
father of a murder victim. "My son was shot and killed in 1997," Jenkins said.
"I have been an ardent opponent of the death penalty ever since, and working as
an activist ever since."
"I had always had a philosophical and faith-based opposition to the death
penalty growing up. My parents had always been opposed to it," he said. His
beliefs were tested when his son William was killed while working at a fast food
restaurant. "There was no question of guilt here," Jenkins said. They knew who
committed the crime.
Jenkins learned from the chief prosecutor that it was a capital offense,
punishable by death. "I truly felt that the way to respond to this violence in
my life was not with violence," he said. He asked the prosecutor not to seek the
death penalty. The perpetrator received life in prison without parole.
The staged reading will be directed by Krista Hansen, artistic director of the
Theatre Arts Lab Series for the Performing Arts Center and an assistant
professor at Dominican.
Hearing the story
Nineteen actors will play over 30 roles in the reading. They include Dominican
students, faculty and staff members as well as three community members. "We're
doing a staged reading version so people can really listen to that story,"
Hansen said. "We hope to bring awareness about the death penalty and the many
sides of that issue to the forefront so that we can have a discussion about it."
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of Northfield is arranging the panel discussion. The
wife of Bill Jenkins, Bishop-Jenkins lost a sister, brother-in-law and the
couple's baby to murder, but she remains a staunch anti-death penalty advocate.
She is one of the founding board members of Murder Victims' Families for Human
"Nationally, the way that all of these performances of 'Dead Man Walking' at
colleges have worked is to invite conversation to happen as a result of the
play," Bishop-Jenkins said. Among the panelists will be Gary Gauger, an
exonerated death row inmate. "He spent several years on death row for killing
his parents, which he did not do," Bishop-Jenkins said. "We want to try to
always have the inmate perspective and the victim perspective." One or two death
penalty expert lawyers will be present in the audience.
"The spirit of these talk-backs is never about preaching against the death
penalty. It's really about dialogue -- conversation from many perspectives,"
Interview from the
Justice and Reconciliation Project with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins is a victim-survivor of violent crime who lives in
Illinois. Her sister, Nancy Bishop Langert, her brother in-law, Richard Langert,
and their unborn child were murdered in Winnetka, Illinois in 1990. The killer
was 16 years old. Jennifer has been working in the violence prevention field as
a victims’ advocate ever since the crime. She works to prevent gun violence
nationally and actively supports efforts to end the death penalty in the U.S.
Jennifer became a board member of JRP in 2006. She fully supports restorative
JRP: Jennifer, thanks for being with us. After the violent death of your
sister and her family, what led you to do the things you have done nationally in
JBJ: My sister Nancy was a beautiful, talented and joyous woman of 25 when
she and her beloved husband Richard found out they were expecting their first
child. It was the happiest time of their lives. But one night after celebrating
my father’s birthday, when they returned to their home, they faced a killer who
had broken into their home with only one motive – a thrill kill – he wanted to
see what it would feel like to shoot someone. After watching her husband shot
point blank in the back of the head with a .357 magnum, and then have the gun
turned on her, my sister, Nancy, begged for the life of her unborn child. The
killer shot her directly in her abdomen, destroying her baby, and mortally
wounding her, and then he fled. She had 20 or so minutes in her last moments of
her life to lie there alone, bleeding to death, her baby dead within her, her
husband dead beside her, at just 25 of years of age, dying alone. And in those
final moments, she left us a message in the blood – a heart and a U – “love you”
– before she died.
I was completely changed by that – totally transformed not only by the
violence of the crime, but the power of her final words. Her last word on life
was love. And I know now what that was about – that love is the more important
thing in the world. I have tried to live every moment since that time to honor
that – to honor my sister and to help prevent other such tragedies.
JRP: What issues have you been most drawn to and why?
JBJ: Actually I have been drawn to several areas of activism in the ensuing
years since her murder – one has been opposing the death penalty, which they
wanted to give my sister’s killer. But I knew more killing and more bloodshed
was not the solution to this problem. The three life sentences without parole he
received were good sentences for this crime, and they allowed for our family to
not have to spend the rest of our lives fighting this man in courts and parole
hearings. We wanted to focus instead on prevention of these kinds of tragedies.
So we also became involved with gun violence prevention. The easy access of
kids and criminals to guns in this nation has made this a very dangerous place
to live. No one should have to live in fear, and yet many Americans do, every
day, because of the proliferation of easily obtainable and extremely powerful
I have become very involved with crime prevention programs and intervention
programs such as victim impact programs with young offenders who seem to be
headed for trouble in their lives.
Also advocating for victims rights and human rights has been a vital
component of my life’s journey since that awful day. It is only when we all
embrace the dignity of each other, and every single life, that we will move
ahead as a society.
I work on these issues some would even say obsessively because I just cannot
rest until we solve these problems. They are too serious.
JRP: How do you view the “victims’ right movement in the U.S.?
Do you think it has changed over the decades? What do you think is the
biggest focus today of the movement?
JBJ: I actually have come to a much better understanding of the victims’
rights movement in recent years. At first since I had not any denials of my
rights as a victim in my personal case I did not get as involved with it (the
movement). But then I began to see how others were not as well treated as our
family was. We were from a prosperous community where there were excellent
services. But I came to see in time that most do not fare so well.
There is too much to say about this issue in a short article – victims
services is a huge field, and there are many complex issues. But overall, a lack
of funding, a lack of proper notification and counseling support, and a lack of
consistency across the nation continue to seriously plague victims everywhere.
Everyone should be a victim advocate.
I do not use the term “victim” in a disempowering way. I use the term as a
legal description. Victims by definition did not choose what happened to them.
The reason why restorative justice as a model is so incredibly important is
because it treats all crime as a community problem where the victim is fully at
Right now nationally in most places victims services are tied to the
offender. If he goes to trial, victim advocates can step in and inform the
family, perhaps even escort them.
But if the offender is not caught, or tried, there often are no victims’
services. And that is in 80% of the cases of violent crime! No wonder we are a
broken and hurting society!
JRP: How did you first learn of restorative justice? Do you believe you have
experienced some kind of healing or restoration in your life as a crime
JBJ: I started being asked to speak at Restorative Justice conferences
because of my visits to prisons, my work against the death penalty, and my
public forgiveness of my sister’s killer. Though I do not ever want him to be
free because he is unrepentant and still a very dangerous sociopath, I have
released his power over my personal healing and journey by forgiving him. I did
that for me, and for my sister, and for my whole family. And when I have seen
the very positive things that have come for other families in cases where a true
restorative justice process was possible, even independent of them serving their
sentences, I have tried to work to make that possible for as many families as
JRP: Have you ever considered victim offender dialogue in your own case with
the offender? What was the sentence your offender received?
Has there been any contact? Would that be valuable to you? Under what
JBJ: The killer in our case, though definitely guilty, has not admitted
officially to his crime. A few years ago when my father was dying of cancer I
thought I would take the chance of reaching out to him again in the hopes that
he would finally take responsibility for his crime. He was still not willing to
admit it officially, and so I left it with him the thought that if he ever
changed his mind, he knew where to find me.
JRP: Was there initial contact through letters or what? Who made the first
contact? JRP has found that most prisons, guided by a department of corrections
or the equivalent, victims are discouraged from any contact with their
JBJ: I was friends with another prisoner, because of my work against the
death penalty, in the same prison where the killer was serving his three LWOP
sentences. He arranged for me to be able to write the killer – so the first
contact was mine. I wrote a very short letter simply stating that I had been
working in Restorative Justice since my sister’s murder and that I would be
willing to receive a letter from him if he was interested. He wrote back that he
was very interested in having a friendly correspondence but that he was not ever
going to admit he had killed them. Without going into too much detail, there was
lots of evidence that the sociopath diagnosis of his earlier years had not at
all been ameliorated. I wrote back a very short note that it seemed to me that
he was not where he needed to be in order for us to use a restorative justice
approach, but that if he ever changed his mind, he knew where to reach me.
JRP: Do you think there is value in encouraging more contact between victims
and offenders? Do you think it leads to more accountability in the offenders
regarding their crimes?
JBJ: I do think that there are few things more healing to victims than a
truly repentant offender willing to be fully accountable for their crimes. I
would never force this process on anyone, because all sides have to enter into
it fully open to the process, I think for it to really work. But if it can work,
few things could be more meaningful or helpful. That is why I work out the pain
in our case, where it has not been possible, by helping others where it is
JRP: You work for the Brady Campaign to stop gun violence. Do you see a
connection between restorative justice and violence prevention on this level?
JBJ: Though many in the gun violence prevention movement are not fully aware
of what the restorative justice movement is all about, some of us are, and it
definitely has overlapping priorities and ideals.
The problem of gun violence in our nation is particularly insidious. There is
a real “bad guy” in the NRA, and they truly, truly do not care about victims of
violence – at all. They have taken the most unreasonable positions on issues of
concerns to all of us trying to live safe and happy lives – like unrestricted
access of criminals to the most powerful of weapons, and supporting everything
from armor-piercing bullets to protecting gun dealers who knowingly traffic
weapons to criminals. And because we have far, far more gun violence deaths than
any other nation in the world – by the largest margins imaginable – and it is
the number two killer in the nation behind cars, we have to look to community
based initiatives to address the problem holistically. Prevention is vital. And
common sense gun laws actually make a huge difference, but they won’t happen
until we take back the control of our law-making bodies from the financially
dominated influence of the powerful gun industry.
But when gun violence does happen, all too often, it is a particularly
violent form of injury and trauma, and the damage it does to victims families
runs so deep that restorative justice is needed more than ever to address the
wounds left behind. Otherwise the cycles of violence are just perpetuated.
JRP: Your husband Bill Jenkins also works in the violence prevention field
and has a personal story. Can you mention that briefly?
JBJ: I met my husband in 2001 at a conference for victims called “Healing the
Wounds of Murder”. After Bill’s son was shot in the robbery of a fast-food
restaurant, he wrote a book called What To Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to
the First Days of Traumatic Loss (WBJ Press) which has become the “bible” for
victims of violent death. He has won awards for it, and now travels all over the
country teaching victims and victim advocates how to live in the wake of such
horrible losses. Before we even met, we were both working against gun violence,
for human rights and against the death penalty, and for victims’ rights. So
meeting him has just been the greatest blessing because we now work as a team.
And it has been for us what Bill calls a “redemption of tragedy”.
JRP: There are many views of restorative justice in the victims’ community
nationally and abroad. Why do you think this subject is sometimes misunderstood?
JBJ: Without a doubt! One example of how it is misunderstood is happening
right now here in Illinois. A group of prisoner advocates who are advocating for
widespread releases from prison of long term sentenced offenders are trying to
use lip service to Restorative Justice as a token nod to the victims they are
frightening here, without really understanding it or embracing it at all.
Restorative Justice is hard work that takes a long time – it is not a quick
easy fix. And it is not just a ticket for release from prison. And it cannot be
tossed into complex political discussions in only a shallow way. These prisoner
advocates we are trying to talk to here in Illinois actually only understand
restorative justice as something that could just get their prisoners easily
released. They do not see the long journey that victims have to take, and the
need to fully engage victims in every step of the process that affects their
loved ones’ killers’ sentences.
These prisoner advocates have actually tried to hide their legislative
efforts from the victims and the public they are most affecting, and they are
showing open hostility to victims who are worried about what they are doing,
instead of trying to bring them to the table. All this, while only paying lip
service to the need for restorative justice. Restorative justice cannot work
under these conditions. Everyone involved has to be at the table. Everyone has
to be fully engaged that is touched by the process.
JRP: Thanks so much for being with us. We have a long way to go to build
bridges necessary to see restorative justice fully embraced and implemented
nationally and around the world. You are a part of that process! If readers want
to reach you how can they contact you?
JBJ: You are welcome and thanks for the great work you are doing at JRP.
Folks are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis e-mail address is
have an Illinois Victims Rights website at www.illinoisvictims.org
Reprinted with the expressed permission of JRP. March 2007 JRP Online
The Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP)
May 20, 2001
From the Chicago Tribune Magazine Cover Story "To
IN NANCY'S NAME---WHY THE BISHOP SISTERS CHOSE FORGIVENESS OVER VENGEANCE
March 24, 1982. Nancy Bishop is 17 and feeling the rush of opening-night
jitters as she takes the stage as Maria in New Trier High School's
production of "West Side Story." The exuberant youngest of the three
daughters of Lee and Joyce Bishop of Winnetka, Nancy throws herself into
the role, performing with particular zeal the classic "Somewhere," a song
about the search for peace and forgiveness in a deadly world.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
We'll find a new way of living
We'll find a way of forgiving
May 23, 1987. Nancy Bishop is 23 and getting married to Richard Langert,
26, of Oak Lawn. They met 2 years ago, when Nancy was working for a
summer in the offices at Saratoga Specialties Corp., a chemical and spice
manufacturer in Elmhurst where Richard was a salesman. As the story goes,
it was Nancy who pursued Richard. She is a young woman who knows what she
wants, and having a family is No. 1 on her list. The wedding ceremony,
with sisters Jennifer and Jeanne as bridesmaids, takes place at the
Kenilworth Union Church in Kenilworth. A good friend of Nancy's sings
"Somewhere" during the ceremony.
Saturday, April 7, 1990. Nancy is 25 and three months into her first
pregnancy. It's 10 p.m. and she and Richard are returning home from
dinner out with Nancy's family in downtown Chicago. The family has 3 good
reasons to celebrate: Lee Bishop's 60th birthday, Nancy's passing the
critical 3-month point of her pregnancy and Nancy and Richard's imminent
move into their 1st house, in Prospect Heights, from their temporary
quarters in a Winnetka townhouse owned by Nancy's parents.
After dropping off her parents, Nancy and Richard step inside the dark
townhouse and find an intruder waiting for them, a .357 Magnum revolver
in his hands. He handcuffs the couple and leads them down into the
basement. Nancy and Richard plead for their lives and the life of their
baby; they offer the intruder $500, but he tosses the money on the floor.
He uncuffs the couple and orders them to lie on the concrete floor. He
shoots Richard 1st, execution-style, in the back of the head; Nancy
scrambles into a corner and covers her pregnant stomach, but it doesn't
work: The intruder shoots her in the abdomen. Nancy then makes a run for
the stairs, but is shot in the back before she gets there. She falls, and
the killer leaves.
But Nancy is not done. Using her elbows for leverage, she squirms across
the floor to some work tools and starts banging an ax against the floor
in an effort to attract someone's attention. After a few minutes, though,
she realizes this is futile. So Nancy gets back on her elbows--the
autopsy will find them bruised and bloodied--and drags herself over to
her dead husband, to be next to him when she dies. But she still isn't
finished. As Nancy lies there, the darkness closing in, she dips her
finger into a pool of blood and scrawls onto a box beside them the simple
message she always uses to end notes and letters to people she loves:
April 11, 1990. Close to 1,200 people are packed into and spilling out of
Kenilworth Union Church for the funeral of Nancy and Richard Langert. At
the urging of Joyce Bishop, one of the songs during the ceremony is
Nancy's favorite, "Somewhere." Outside, the police are taking down the
license plate numbers of everyone in attendance, trying to develop leads
in their investigation of the murders. Among the mourners are Nick and
Joan Biro, who are Winnetka neighbors and acquaintances of Lee and Joyce
Bishop, and their 16-year-old son, David, a New Trier student.
Oct. 7, 1990. After 6 months and a $1.5 million investigation that
included the FBI, local police arrest David Biro. The break in the case
came when a friend told police that Biro had bragged to him about killing
Nancy and Richard. The murder weapon, a stolen .357 Magnum, is discovered
under Biro's bed. That night, Nancy's sister Jennifer has what she will
later call "a moment of real clarity." She is standing on a railroad
bridge looking down on the media zoo around the Winnetka Police Station
and is overwhelmed by a wave of pity for David Biro because, as she will
later say, "He had to be in the lowest place possible on Earth to do
something like this."
After a 2-week trial in November 1991, a Circuit Court jury finds Biro
guilty of the murders of Nancy and Richard and their unborn baby. Two
months later, Biro is sentenced to consecutive life terms without parole
and sent to Menard Correctional Center. In Illinois, unlike in some other
states, Biro is ineligible for the death penalty because he was not 18 at
the time of the murder. He has never acknowledged any guilt, and his
motive remains a mystery.
As the Bishop family leaves the courtroom, they are surrounded by
reporters. For the first and only time, Joyce Bishop steps up to a media
microphone. Reporters ask her what the family's plans are. "We are going
to the graves to grieve," Joyce says, standing straight and still amid
the maelstrom. "We are going to tell Nancy and Richard that they can rest
It took a year or so after the murders for Jennifer and Jeanne Bishop,
now 43 and 41, to begin to surface from the deep well of anguish that the
murders had plunged them into. But once that happened, both sisters knew
what they had to do: get involved in the fight against the death penalty
and for stricter gun control laws--even though they both had full-time
jobs and would eventually have children.
"I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life with every ounce of
energy I have to give it," Jennifer says. "And it's all because of Nancy,
because of that last message of love she left us. . . . There's no way,
as a tribute to this person who was so full of love, that we could spend
15 years trying to kill another human being."
To that end, seven months after the murders Jeanne quit her job as a
corporate attorney with a Loop law firm and became a public defender,
representing people like the man who killed Nancy and Richard. "Nancy's
death put many things into perspective for me," Jeanne says, "like not
caring so much about the things I'd been so concerned about before, like
The 1st time Jennifer and Jeanne participated in a public event was at a
rally against handguns; they joined the Illinois Council Against Handgun
Violence. Then both soon became involved with anti-capital punishment
work, joining the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The
majority of the work consisted of telling their story as often as they
could in speeches across the Midwest, particularly in Illinois.
After a few years, Jennifer and Jeanne heard about and joined Murder
Victims' Families for Reconciliation, a victim-oriented anti-death
penalty organization founded 25 years ago and based in Boston. The group
has about 2,500 members from across the country who firmly believe that
death by execution is just another senseless whirl in the United States'
relentless cycle of violence. The group does not require that its members
forgive the killer or killers; the "reconciliation" in the group's title
has the same meaning that Catholics use in their sacrament of
reconciliation--making peace with God and yourself and what has happened.
Bringing your life back together.
But some members, including Jennifer and Jeanne, say forgiveness is their
main motivation. Member Bud Welch lost his daughter, Julie, in the
Oklahoma City bombing, a crime for which Timothy McVeigh received the
death penalty. Welch has publicly forgiven McVeigh.
"People presume we're either psychos or saints," says Renny Cushing,
executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.
Cushing lost his father to murder 12 years ago. "Society refuses to
acknowledge that we're just people who've had a terrible thing happen to
us, and we've come to understand that the only thing that makes any sense
to us is to not repeat the violence. Our message [of reconciliation and
non-violence] is an offering that we make to society, an offering we've
paid for in blood. That's how we give meaning to our loss."
Jennifer was recently named national president of the murder victims'
families group. Much of the sisters' work for the organization, which is
all on a volunteer basis, involves providing emotional support. People
who join the group--most are referred through churches--have a great need
for a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear ready to listen to their
stories about the loved ones they lost and how it happened. "Whenever we
are together we still spend a hunk of time sharing our grief and
memories," Jennifer says.
Then come the more political aspects of coordinating members, giving
speeches and organizing meetings and events to work against the death
penalty, to spread the philosophy of reconciliation and non-violence.
Both Jennifer and Jeanne make dozens of speeches and presentations each
year. "I think this is a message our society needs to hear," Jennifer
says, "because I think most people know deep down that [reconciliation]
is the real truth."
There's no doubt that for Jennifer and Jeanne Bishop, their work is the
best way they've found to honor their sister.
"Every time I talk to a room full of people about it, I feel like I'm
opening up my veins," Jeanne says. "But Nancy is up there in heaven,
tapping us on our shoulders, asking, 'What have you done today?'"
"It's the way that I make sense of all of this," Jennifer says. "There's
no other way Nancy's death makes any sense to me."
Though forgiveness is a central tenet of Christianity and is em-braced by
many spiritual leaders as a way to deal with loss, it is difficult to
reconcile with notions of justice and is often overwhelmed by the more
visceral human desire for revenge. Even those who support the idea of
forgiveness after murder emphasize that it is a very difficult process,
and takes place only after a long time. Forgiveness is possible, they
say, but few people actually manage to do it; most are simply unable to
let go of enough of their rage and intense feelings of loss. And it's a
2-person job: The person responsible for the murder has to be willing to
acknowledge his or her crime and accept the forgiveness. Otherwise, the
process gets short-circuited.
"That's why, when the pope went to visit and forgive the man who shot him
in St. Peter's Square or Cardinal Bernardin went to see and forgive the
man who falsely accused him of molestation, we see these as saintly
acts," says Don Browning, professor of religious ethics and the social
sciences at the University of Chicago. "I think we have to understand
that forgiveness is very, very hard to do and not everyone can do it.
It's an extra-special act, and that's why it can't be included in the
ordinary organizing of society. It's a special spiritual gift."
But forgiveness can also double back and bestow gifts on people who
forgive, Browning says. Such people "can be the beneficiary of their own
forgiveness, because it can allow them to get beyond the evil that happened."
Rabbi Byron Sherwin, vice president of academic affairs and professor of
ethics at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, disagrees
that forgiveness is possible, or even desirable, and says it's justice
that must be served.
"In the Jewish tradition," Sherwin says, "there are only 2 possibilities
of forgiveness--from the victim or from God. Any other person doesn't
have the right to forgive." It's justice that's most important, he says
--justice as distinguished from revenge or retribution. He advises
de-emphasizing revenge and seeking justice, "even if it's a next-world
Society has no right to stop seeking justice, "because that's the fabric
that keeps society together," Sherwin says. "People are more upset when
justice isn't done than when forgiveness is given." Sherwin warns that
people should not get caught up in trying to extract revenge, because
that can lead to self-destruction, which just gives the killer another
victory. But people also shouldn't "blankly forgive," because that's
giving up on the search for justice. "If there is no justice, then
there's no meaning to the murder."
Victims' family members, whether they struggle toward forgiveness or not,
agree on several points: the great need to tell their stories, the vital
importance of getting beyond the horrible image of the moment of the
murder, and the necessity for advocacy and programs for victims' family
members; the victimization of the survivors is a common and sometimes
tragic byproduct of violence.
Marilyn Baldwin has worked with murder victims' families for 14 years,
overseeing appeals and capital cases for the Cook County State's Attorney
Victim/Witness Program. One of her jobs is helping victims' families
prepare for and recover from executions. She believes the death penalty
brings a just conclusion to the criminal justice process and can help
family members heal.
"Closure is different for everyone," she says. "It's not like all their
problems are solved by the execution, but there is a peace that comes
with the end of the criminal justice process, the end [victims' families]
were promised for so long. . . . There's a misconception about these
people [survivors] being bloodthirsty. They just want an end to it and
punishment carried out and hopefully to be able to be free from all that.
As one mother said to me, 'You know, we got the death penalty too.'"
Baldwin has worked with the National Organization of Victim Advocates to
develop a video to help families through the process, which can take a
heavy toll on relationships. "The divorce rate is staggering," Baldwin
says. "It's the worst thing that can happen to a family. It's not that
[the killer] took 1 or 2 lives; the fallout on the whole family is
One of the family members Baldwin has worked with is Dawn Pueschel, 44.
On Aug. 29, 1983, her brother and sister-in-law, Dean and Jo Ellen
Pueschel, were savagely beaten to death in their Rogers Park apartment
(Jo Ellen was also raped). Their 11-year-old son, Ricky, was also beaten,
but he survived. 2 brothers, Reginald and Jerry Mahaffey, were eventually
convicted and sent to death row for the crimes. Pueschel wants to be
present when the Mahaffeys die. "I'm not a crazy person. But I would like
to be there when they're executed."
After 18 years, not an uncommon eclipse of time in capital cases, she
just wants it to be over. "I know [executing them] is not going to
accomplish anything, really. But my family is dead, that's how I think
about it. And why should [the Mahaffey brothers] have the right to live
and breathe and read and get an education, when they have killed my
family? My family was slaughtered and had no rights at all."
It is a cold and gray early February Sunday evening; Jennifer and Jeanne
Bishop are sitting in the living room of Jeanne's Evanston home.
Jennifer, now living in Kankakee, is recently divorced and the mother of
Elizabeth, 9, and Amanda, 7. She is a history teacher whose specialty is
teaching gifted junior high and high school students. Jeanne is the
mother of 21-month-old Brendan and is married to musician Russell Gloyd.
Jeanne's 5-year-old golden retriever is nudging from sister to sister to
visitor, trolling for attention. The dog is named Swansea, in honor of
the place in Wales that Nancy and Richard had decided was their favorite
place in the world.
For Jennifer and Jeanne, talking about Nancy and the murders and the path
they have traveled the last 11 years is both heart-wrenching and
life-affirming. They say that without a doubt it's Nancy who motivates
them, the exuberance with which she lived and the message of love she
left as she died.
"Can you imagine?" Jennifer asks, recalling Nancy's last moments. "There
she is, her husband is dead in front of her, her baby is dead inside of
her, she's going to be dead in moments, but she had one final message for
us. With the last ounce of energy and life in her, Nancy found the truth
that people spend their whole lives searching for--that love is all that
"There's a verse in the Bible that says, 'Love is stronger than death,'"
Jeanne says. "It's so true."
Although Jennifer and Jeanne remain committed to the struggle of
forgiving David Biro, the process is incomplete, they say, because he
refuses to participate. Biro, who would not comment for this story, is
not willing to enter into any sort of forgiveness process with the
Bishops or Langerts, says his attorney, Bob Gevirtz, because that would
require admitting legal guilt in the murders. Biro has been found guilty
of the murders in criminal and civil courts.
"If there is a heaven on Earth," Jennifer says, "it's living in love,
like my sister was. If there is a hell, it's living in total alienation
like David Biro was. That's where my forgiveness comes from, feeling
incredible pity for him."
"My ability to forgive David Biro," Jeanne says, "is centered around what
I've learned from my faith. I ask myself, What does David Biro owe me? He
owes me a beautiful sister; he owes me a brother-in-law; he owes me a
niece or a nephew; he owes me every holiday celebration for the rest of
my life. . . . What do I owe David Biro? Absolutely nothing. But what do
I owe God? I owe it to God to forgive David Biro, because I have been
forgiven by God."
Make no mistake, both sisters are glad Biro will never get out of prison.
They describe with obvious satisfaction the moment in Biro's trial when
he was on the witness stand and the prosecutor heaped "withering scorn"
on his story that the bragging he'd done about the murders was just a lot
of joking. "I'm completely glad for every minute of that 2-hour
cross-examination," Jennifer says. "We could actually see him deflate on
the stand," Jeanne says.
Lee and Joyce Bishop support the death penalty, so they are not members
of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. But Jennifer and Jeanne
are quick to say their parents, particularly their mother, have been
supportive of their work with the group. The diverging views, though,
have led to some lively discussions at the family dinner table. "My dad
agrees with the [Illinois' death penalty] moratorium; but he sees it as a
way to correct the system, while I see it as a step toward abolishing the
death penalty," Jennifer says. "We joke about how our votes cancel each
other out." Lee Bishop, a labor relations lawyer for 35 years, is retired
and teaches 7th and 8th graders as a substitute at Wilmette Junior High.
Jennifer and Jeanne agree that the murders brought their family closer
together than it had been before--even though there have been some tense
and angry moments, stress-caused arguments. And both say they are more
determined than they probably would have been to remain as close as
possible as a family.
But the scars, too, remain. Jennifer and Jeanne live with anxieties
stemming from the murders 11 years ago. "When I'm out and I call to check
in, and my husband or the baby-sitter doesn't answer the phone right
away, I think, 'The intruder is in the house and everybody is dead.'"
"I have lived with visual imagery of my daughters' deaths," Jennifer
says. "Just walking along the street or in the woods or whatever, I see
my girls being dropped over a cliff. . . . It used to be worse, but I
still see this imagery all the time."
Because of Nancy's love of children, the Bishop family established a
memorial garden behind Kenilworth Union Church for Nancy and Richard and
their unborn baby. The garden is in a small courtyard enclosed on three
sides by the stone walls of the church. In the center of the garden is a
larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Jesus; the statue, which the Bishops
commissioned, is designed so that children can sit in Jesus' lap. Any
time a child in the congregation dies, his or her name is added to the
memorial plaque. The memorial now bears the names of 20 children.
The 2 sisters greatly enjoy telling funny stories about Nancy, laughing
hard about pranks she used to get away with because she was the youngest
child. But such conversations have a way of always veering back to April
"Remember," Jennifer says softly to her sister, "what we said to each
other the 1st time we saw each other after we heard the news?" Jeanne
nods and closes her eyes. "That the two of us could never be alone
together again--that Nancy would always be there with us?"
March 9, 2001. On this gloomy and cold March evening, Jennifer and Jeanne
are attending, with several hundred others, a downtown memorial service
for Dick Cunningham, an attorney and a vigorous opponent of the death
penalty who represented Death Row inmates. Cunningham was stabbed to
death in his home, allegedly by his son, Jesse, 26, who has a history of
mental illness. Jennifer and Jeanne are there not only as friends of the
Cunningham family but also as representatives of Murder Victims' Families
When it's their turn to speak, the sisters walk forward and Jennifer
takes the microphone. She explains to the audience about the group and
calls to the front any members present. Jennifer then pauses, clears her
throat and says, "My sister, Jeanne, and I are going to sing you a
song--a song neither of us has sung since our sister Nancy's funeral 11
Their voices then rise up into Nancy's favorite, "Somewhere," Jennifer in
the lead, Jeanne offering harmony.
Medill Chicago News Service — Northwestern University
Victim-impact panel teaches juvenile offenders consequences of their actions
by Kristin A. Volk
February 02, 2005
It was late on a Saturday night when Richard Langert and his pregnant wife,
Nancy, arrived at their Winnetka townhouse after a family birthday party to find
a strange youth waiting for them.
David Biro, a 16-year-old New Trier High School student, was sitting in an easy
chair in the couple's living room holding a .357 magnum handgun.
Pointing the gun at their heads, Biro bound the terrified young couple's wrists
with handcuffs and led them to the basement.
"I'm pregnant. We're begging for our lives!" said Nancy,25, who was three-and a
half months pregnant. "Please, please don't hurt us."
Biro was not swayed.
He blew Richard's brains out, splattering blood across his wife who was lying
next to the 28-year old plant manager.
"Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt my baby!" pleaded Nancy, with her arms
crossed over her stomach.
But a cold-hearted Biro shot Nancy in the stomach, instantly killing her unborn
child. As she lay bleeding to death on the basement floor, Nancy called for help
in the darkness.
It never came.
Before the young wife took her last breath, Nancy Langert expressed her undying
love to her husband of three years. She drew a heart and the letter "U" in his
blood on the metal storage shelves above her.
This horrific event tale took place nearly 15 years ago on April 7, 1990.
But the graphic story of how Richard and Nancy Langert died was recalled in
vivid detail recently to an audience of more than 30 juvenile delinquents who
were part of a unique crime deterrent program at the Skokie Courthouse..
Telling the story was Nancy Langert's sister, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, who,
since the murders, has become a fervent death penalty opponent and advocate for
(Biro was arrested after he revealed details about the murder to a friend. He
was convicted of murdering the Langerts and their unborn child and is now
serving three consecutive life terms in prison.) As one of three speakers at a
Victim-Impact panel forum,Bishop-Jenkins told the young crowd she hoped her
message would make delinquents think twice before victimizing someone.
"I want to try to help them understand what it feels like to be a victim," said
Bishop-Jenkins who is vice-principal at Chicago's St. Scholastica High School
and has worked to abolish the death penalty in Illinois and around the country.
"Why he (Biro) was able to point that gun at my beautiful sister and pull that
trigger is because he had no sense of human connection."
Since it was started two years ago, Cook County Juvenile Court's victim-impact
panels have taught more than 2,000 young offenders about the harmful
consequences of their behavior. The program also has allowed crime victims to
talk to offenders about what it was like to be hurt, robbed or threatened.
"Through the victim-impact panels, kids can begin to understand that there's an
emotional, physical and financial loss to victims of crime," said Chuck Michalek,
Cook County Juvenile Court's Deputy Chief Probation Officer.
Juvenile offenders,whose crimes range from burglary to auto theft and armed
robbery, must attend one victim-impact panel as a condition of probation.
"The panel made me realize that I have a chance to make it and not screw up my
life," said a 16-year-old girl from the northern Cook County suburbs who is
charged with retail theft.
Bishop-Jenkins' husband, Bill Jenkins, also described how his life changed after
his 16-year-old son was murdered eight years ago. Bishop-Jenkins and Jenkins met
at a murder-victim conference nearly four years ago.
"This is the reason why I want to make the world a better place," said Jenkins,
who held up a framed picture of his son William."You can control how you're
going to react, what you're going to do, and we do this because we don't want to
give up on you."
William Jenkins was murdered on the night of Aug.12, 1997 in Richmond, Virginia
as he was leaving work at a local fast-food restaurant. It was only his second
day on the job when a 23-year-old man killed young Jenkins with a 380
semi-automatic handgun in an attempt to rob the restaurant. The murderer
received life in prison without parole.
"We've been hurt by people who shouldn't have hurt us!" Jenkins told the group.
"Damn it! They shouldn't have hurt us."
After hearing the Jenkinses speak, a 16-year-old girl who helped rob a house,
said the stories opened her eyes to the consequences of committing a crime.
"It's sad to see a young guy like that do something that big," she said speaking
of Biro. "It inspired me to not do something stupid and make wrong decisions."
Dana Stevens, a youth pastor in North Lawndale who has been robbed 10 times and
lost three close friends to gunfire in the last eight years, said that although
he tries to teach children to stay out of trouble, the victim-impact panel is a
learning experience for him as well.
"There's a history to every face," said Stevens,32. "I want to acquire a greater
understanding of how I can empower them with tools that will help break the
cycle of violence and crime."
For Jenkins, it's not only a learning experience but a healing process too.
"It's helping good things come out of a bad situation," he said. "It's like
opening up a big vein sometimes, but I have something important to share and I
have a responsibility to do so."
Jenkins' story did not fall on deaf ears.
"Bill touched me because I have a son of my own," said an 18-year-old boy who
served time in the Juvenile Detention Center for aggravated battery and domestic
violence. "Everything he said changed me. I'm going to treat people how they
should be treated. I'm going to let my friends know that their lifestyle isn't
good, and I can't be around that."
From the PEW FORUM - A Call For Reckoning: Religion and the
Grief, Closure, and
My sister Nancy Bishop Langert was murdered when she was 25 years old. She and
her husband Richard were returning home from a restaurant the night before Palm
Sunday, 1990. The killer, a local teenager with a criminal history, was waiting
for them, gun pointed. He handcuffed Richard. Nancy, who was three months
pregnant with what would have been her first child, begged for the life of her
The killer forced Nancy and Richard into the basement. He shot Richard once
through the back of the head, execution style. He turned the gun on Nancy. She
protectively folded her arms across her pregnant belly, but he fired there
anyway, twice. Then he left her to bleed to death. Blood and marks on her body
revealed what Nancy did in her last moments: she tried unsuccessfully to crawl
upstairs to the telephone. She banged on a metal shelf in a futile attempt to
summon help. Finally, when she must have known she was dying, she dragged
herself over to her husband’s body and wrote in her own blood a heart symbol and
the letter “u.” Love you.
The killer was arrested six months later. Police found in his room the gun
(which ballistics tests showed was the murder weapon), the burglary tools he
used to break in, handcuffs, a trophy book of press clippings about the murders,
his own poems about killing. Police learned he had even gone to Nancy and
A jury convicted him of the first degree murders of Nancy and Richard and of the
intentional homicide of an unborn child. The court sentenced him to life without
parole on all three charges. Because he was 16 at the time of the murders, he
was ineligible for the death penalty in Illinois. After the judge sentenced him
and the sheriffs took him away, my mother turned to me and said, “We’ll never
see him again.” When we left the courtroom that day, a reporter asked us if we
were disappointed that the killer didn’t get the death penalty. That was the
first time I had an opportunity to say what I’ve been saying ever since: No.
I thought a lot about this answer when I watched interviews with family members
of the Oklahoma City victims after Timothy McVeigh was executed. Family members
said they were dissatisfied. McVeigh hadn’t suffered enough. He hadn’t said he
was sorry. And they hadn’t gotten what they were promised by federal officials
who had sought and carried out the execution: closure. Those family members were
looking in the wrong place. First, there’s no such thing as closure. Second, the
death penalty is the most anti-victim response to murder imaginable.
“Closure”, a neatly wrapped-up end to the horror and grief of murder, simply
doesn’t exist—nor perhaps should it. The most blatant perpetrators of this lie
are death penalty proponents who promise executions that bring psychological
resolution, even peace, to family members on a specific date. It doesn’t happen
this way. Grief, the culmination of sweet memories and the bitter loss of
possibilities, lives on—and it should. The grief I felt after my sister’s murder
is not closed. It lives in me today, but differently. At first it was a grief
that numbed, that paralyzed. Now it is a grief that energizes me to love more
passionately, to share more generously, to live more fearlessly, to work to
prevent the violence which could inflict on another family the suffering mine
You don’t hold back love when you understand that people can be snatched from
you at any moment. You don’t waste time being afraid when you realize how short
life is. Every day I’ve lived since Nancy’s murder is one day she never got to
have; now I try to live in a way that honors her and the God who gave the gift
of life in the first place. Grief taught me this.
In the play “Shadowlands,” C. S. Lewis, whose wife, Joy Gresham, is dying of
terminal cancer, exclaims that the prospect of life without her is too painful
to discuss. She answers, “The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the
deal.” So it is with Nancy and me. The pain now is part of the happiness then,
when she lived. The memories of Nancy’s life and death, painful as they are,
also bring tremendous joy. Why would I “close” that, even if I could? The notion
that killing another human being, no matter how despicable his act, could
somehow honor this grief, even heal it, is a lie.
It’s a lie because the death penalty is, frankly, anti-victim. First, death
inadequately punishes the killer. The most common proposition—a life for a
life—is obscene. If all my sister’s killer could give me in return for my loved
ones was his own life, I would wholly reject it. His life is not enough for
theirs; his death could not begin to pay for theirs. To suggest that the
killer’s death is equivalent to those of the victims insults their memory.
The death penalty is also anti-victim because it squanders the money and
attention that should go to victims and wastes those resources on the killer.
Millions upon millions of dollars were spent to execute Timothy McVeigh;
countless more millions were spent publicizing the execution—and McVeigh. We are
no safer now that he is dead rather than incarcerated for the rest of his life.
But we are poorer. Money which could have paid for police officers, crime
prevention, hospitals, damage restitution, counseling for victims and their
families, and scholarships for victims’ dependents went instead to death row
personnel and security, lethal injection drugs and apparatus, court costs, media
platforms, cameras, reporters, news trucks, ad nauseum.
The death penalty is anti-victim because it promises what it cannot deliver. It
does not deter crime; it does not make us safer; it does not even punish (how
does one punish a person who no longer exists?). Finally, the death penalty is
anti-victim because it perpetuates the evil idea behind my sister’s death: that
one human being has the right to snuff out the life of another. Executing
Nancy’s killer would erase him from the earth. But the reality is that the death
penalty does not limit blood shed but always fosters even more killing.
That grief can somehow be good and that killing to even the score is wrong are
radical notions, particularly in light of September 11 and its aftermath. But
Hannah Arendt , writing after the Holocaust , pointed out that forgiveness—not
forgetting but refusing to be diminished to the level of murder-- is one of two
human capacities which make it possible to alter the political future. The poet
W. H. Auden wrote in the wake of the blitzkrieg of Poland that “We must love one
another or die.”
Forgiveness, love: these abilities are not fuzzy-headed idealism; they are
pragmatic practices of extraordinary courage. Vengeance didn’t work in South
Africa or Northern Ireland. Forgiveness has. Vengeance has not worked in our
criminal justice system. Beside the bloodshed of execution and leniency for
murderers, there is a third way: punishment without violence. Life without the
possibility of parole.
“We’ll never see him again,” my mother said that day. And it’s proven to be
true. We’ve been allowed to process our grief, day by day, year by year. We’ve
been blessed to do this without another death on our hearts. My sister’s killer
will spend the rest of his life in prison. His life will be his punishment. And
because he lives I can work to extend to him the forgiveness he has neither
asked for nor deserves. Not for him, but for God, for Nancy and for myself.
Jeanne Bishop is a public defender in Cook County IL, and is a member of the
national board of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, an organization
composed of murder victims' family members who oppose the death penalty.
From leading Victim activist for
Restorative Justice, Azim Khamisa:
The Top 10 Misconceptions about Forgiveness
10. It's too hard to forgive.
The truth is: It can be hard, but not too hard, not when you have the right
support and perspective.
9. Forgiveness is only for religious people.
The truth is: It's for all of us walking the planet.
8. Forgiving another person doesn't do any good really.
The truth is: It not only uplifts you AND that person in ways unseen, but it
brings that much more light to a world in need.
7. Forgiveness is done by saying the words "I forgive you."
The truth is: Forgiveness resides not only in words but also in thought, feeling
6. When you are forgiving, you are "pardoning" someone's bad behavior.
The truth is: There is no "pardoning," just a clearer perception on who that
other person truly is, and what they can still provide to your life, to a
community and to a society.
5. Forgiveness is for the other person.
The truth is: Forgiving another is an act we do for ourselves, to free ourselves
from the pain or bitterness.
4. Forgiving someone tells that person that whatever he or she did was
acceptable with you.
The truth is: Accepting their actions and accepting their true nature underneath
it all are two very different things. You can make that clear.
3. Forgiveness lets people off the hook, so they aren't accountable to their
The truth is: Forgiveness and accountability are not the same topic. You can
have both. Forgive another by offering empathy and unity; yet still uphold the
process of accountability within the social structure.
2. Forgiveness is a passive endeavor.
The truth is: Forgiveness is a very active endeavor, where you can ultimately
reach out in love and compassion to the other person.
1. Withholding forgiveness hurts the other person.
The truth is: Withholding forgiveness hurts yourself.
The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin writes about Governor Ryan
and we contribute thoughts about Restorative Justice
Editor's Note: In a conversation
with the columnist Carol Marin, leading to the column below, about how the
principles of Restorative Justice might be applied to the situation with
Governor George Ryan, I spoke to her first in generalities about the principles
of Restorative Justice. Like many who appreciate the good man George Ryan is, we
all have hoped for any other solution to this problem other than his late in
life years in prison.
The first step in any RJ situation
is always acknowledging harm.
I spoke to her about how RJ has been applied in other nations such as South
Africa where instead of criminal prosecution, after Apartheid fell, Truth and
Reconciliation Commissions brought together those harmed with those responsible
and there was honesty and accountability, harm acknowledged and healing focused
on. It is a waste to have created a criminal justice system in which a decent
man who has done a lot of good in his years of public service is sent off to
jail with no other options. Governor Ryan being in prison at this stage in
his life doesn't do anyone any good and doesn't heal anything.
The public evidence has been clear -
Ryan is not responsible for the deaths of the Willis family. The truck that hit
their van had a faulty part - the driver was not even to blame, though he did
obtain his commercial license through a bribe (from an employee of the Secretary
of State's office that was hired by Governor Edgar, not Governor Ryan). The
truck company acknowledged culpability when they settled with the Willis family
for $100 million. The Wisconsin police and other investigators so completely
cleared the driver that they did not even ticket him for the accident.
Though the Willis family has asked
Governor Ryan to apologize, he has said that he was very sad for what happened
to their family, but of course was not able to apologize for something that he
is not responsible for.
The Willis family has received an
apology of sorts - in the form of the large settlement from the truck company.
But of course no such admissions are ever enough for what they have had taken
from them. No price is ever enough.
The political climate in Illinois
will continue to foster problems for all who are forced to "work the system" to
lead in public office -- until we once and for all eliminate Pay to Play. Other
states have done it. Illinois needs to also. And until the nation adopts public
financing of all elections, we will not have a system free of the fundraising
obligations that lead to public scandal.
I have never understood why we are
willing to imprison official after official but not reform the system that makes
the financial connections between leaders and power-brokers unavoidable.
The principles of Restorative
Justice could have guided a much more positive outcome for this whole mess.
Finally, Governor Ryan has done a
lot of good for this state, not the least of which was the most courageous
exposure of huge flaws in the criminal justice system that stands historic in
its proportions. Few public officials have accomplished as much, and for it he
was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Deservedly so.
We admire Carol Marin - her career
has been rich with her integrity. She cares about people, and her journalistic
gifts have placed her at the top of her field nationally. We appreciate the fact
that this column is trying to advance opportunities for healing, and does
acknowledge some of the good in our former Governor.
My thoughts always are with the
families like the Willises who have had loved ones die, as I have. And my
thoughts are with the Ryan family, who are heartbroken and whose good lives
should have given them a better outcome. It does not seem like any of us are
really much better off for all of this.
George Ryan's last
For Sunday 4 November 07
Carol Marin, columnist
Today is George Ryan's last Sunday as a free man.
Our former governor, the Kankakee pharmacist who rose to the highest office
in Illinois, on Wednesday will walk into a federal prison in Minnesota.
As someone who has written and reported on Ryan's corruption for a
long time now, am I suddenly going all soft and teary-eyed?
No. But a bit sad.
Ryan is guilty, dead bang guilty, of all the tawdry frauds of which he was
accused. And responsible, though he won't admit it, for a thoroughly crooked
commercial driver's license system that allowed an unfit trucker to bribe his
way behind the wheel of what became a killing machine for six children named
And yet, and yet, as a reporter who in 1996 watched the lethal injection of
an Illinois inmate at Stateville Prison who twisted and heaved and twitched
convulsively before he died, I think we also owe George Ryan a debt for
suspending executions in this state.
That death row inmate whose execution I witnessed, by the way, was dead
bang guilty too. His name was Ray Lee Stewart, a man of diminished intellect
and wild rages who terrorized Rockford in 1983 in a killing spree that left six
Ryan's issue was not lethal injection, but rather wrongful prosecution.
Putting people on Death Row who were framed, or tortured into confessing. You
may not believe he was sincere about all that, but I do.
By putting a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 and clearing out Death
Row in 2002, he made us think as we'd never thought before about how easy it has
been over the years to kill the wrong person. And now, the US Supreme Court is
taking the national death penalty discussion one step further, asking if lethal
injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
As a consequence of the Supreme Court's halting the Mississippi execution
of Earl Berry just minutes before he was scheduled to die, in October judges and
wardens across the country turned the lights out on their death chambers until
the high court formally decides whether the three-drug killing cocktail used in
lethal injections is torturous.
Last month was the first time in three years, according to the Associated
Press, there were no executions in the United States. Not even in George Bush's
Texas which holds the record.
Illinois has done better. It hasn't had an execution since 1999. I'd
argue that's a point of pride for this state and a testament to what George Ryan
Now, if only he'd do one more thing.
It's something even his supporters wish he'd do.
Offer a heartfelt, sincere apology for what he did wrong.
It wouldn't keep him out of prison. It shouldn't keep him out of prison.
But, like his death penalty work, it would have meaning.
Jennifer Bishop Jenkins
certainly believes that. Jenkins is as interesting and ironic a supporter of
George Ryan as you will ever find. In 1990, her pregnant sister and husband
were brutally murdered in Winnetka by a 16-year-old boy who is now a grown man,
spending his life in prison.
Jenkins, who does not believe the death penalty will heal her family's
wounds or ease their profound loss, has long sought an apology, an
acknowledgment of wrongdoing from her sister's unrepentant killer.
Even though she doesn't honestly think that George Ryan
should bear the blame for the deaths of the Willis kids, she sees what
saying “I'm sorry” would accomplish.
“I am imagining the Willis family and the Ryan family,” she said. “A family
that has never been able to hear anyone accountable say to them 'we are so sorry
for what happened to your family', and a sad and quiet man heading off to spend
what is quite probably the rest of his life in prison…..” With an apology, said
Jenkins, “Beyond the level of crime and punishment, down deep to the level of
the human heart, there could be some healing.”
And at this late stage in George Ryan's life, some honor too.