Criminal Justice

Attorney forgave her sister's killer and became an advocate against the death penalty

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A well-known Illinois lawyer who works as a public defender and opposes the death penalty, Jeanne Bishop is also a woman of faith who views the criminal justice system from a very personal perspective.

One of her sisters, Nancy Bishop Langert, was murdered, along with her husband, Richard, in the couple’s townhome in a wealthy Chicago suburb more than 20 years ago. Eventually—after theories were floated about unlikely drug connections or possible retaliation for Jeanne Bishop’s work defending members of the Irish Republican Army imprisoned in the United States—the truth came out. A 16-year-old neighbor of the couple had murdered them, as he later admitted. A friend with whom David Biro discussed the crimes testified against him at trial, saying Biro told him he killed the Langerts because he found them “annoying,” the Chicago Tribune (sub. req.) recounts in a lengthy front-page article.

Both Jeanne Bishop, who once worked for Mayer Brown, and another surviving sister became active as advocates against the death penalty. Bishop publicly forgave Biro, who was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. But as time passed, Bishop began to feel that more was required of her. As a Christian, she believes, it is also her obligation to seek reconciliation with Biro. She wrote to him in prison at the beginning of the year and he responded. For the first time, he admitted that he was responsible for the slayings of the Langerts and their unborn child and apologized.

The letters led to multiple meetings between Bishop and Biro. When they talked in August a newspaper reporter was present. The letters also led to a difference of opinion between Bishop and her mother and her surviving sister, Jennifer.

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2012 that held mandatory life sentences for juvenile murderers were unconstitutional, Biro, like others in his situation, is appealing his sentence and arguing that the prohibition should be imposed retroactively. Bishop’s mother and sister feel Bishop is unrealistic to see Biro’s confession and willingness to talk with her as a sign that he can potentially redeem himself rather than an attempt to position himself for possible release from prison, the Tribune recounts.

At their prison meeting in August, Biro told Bishop that he still considers the friend who testified against him at trial “a weasel.” He said another teen, who was accused at Biro’s trial of slaying the couple, had been slandered. However, “there were no outward damages,” Biro said, because “no one believed me.” Daunted by their conversations, Bishop told the Tribune she doesn’t believe Biro is ready for release yet. However, she still hopes to make an elusive emotional connection with the 40-year-old convicted killer.

At times, she says, “I see in his face when I talk about the suffering of my mother or my father, I see this dark shadow flit across his face. I think, ‘There’s something in there that this is touching.’ And if I really believe that nothing is impossible for God, then I cannot give up on him.”

A lengthy Chicago Reader profile of Bishop from 1992 provides additional background about the Biro case.

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