Jake Squid’s comments about an acquaintance who accidentally shot a relative reminded me of this stunning New York Times article, about a pair of parents who forgave their daughter’s murderer, going so far to get him a reduced sentence (20 years plus ten years probation, when otherwise he probably would have gotten 40 years to life). The murderer, Conor McBride, was the fiancée of the victim, Ann Grosmaire. (That’s the two of them pictured above, the same year as the murder).
I recommend reading the article, which is long and very well written. Trigger warning for – well, for the obvious reasons, including a description of the murder from the murderer’s perspective which has lingered in my mind since I read it.
The Grosmaire’s eventually sought out a Restorative Justice approach, sitting down in a room with Connor, Connor’s parents, the prosecutor, Restorative Justice expert Sujatha Baliga, and a photo of the late Ann Grosmaire, to talk about what happened. Restorative Justice focuses on amends rather than punishment. (I last wrote about Restorative Justice in 2006, in the context of rape.)
From the article:
When Conor was booked, he was told to give the names of five people who would be permitted to visit him in jail, and he put Ann’s mother Kate on the list. Conor says he doesn’t know why he did so — “I was in a state of shock” — but knowing she could visit put a burden on Kate. At first she didn’t want to see him at all, but that feeling turned to willingness and then to a need. “Before this happened, I loved Conor,” she says. “I knew that if I defined Conor by that one moment — as a murderer — I was defining my daughter as a murder victim. And I could not allow that to happen.”
She asked her husband if he had a message for Conor. “Tell him I love him, and I forgive him,” he answered. Kate told me: “I wanted to be able to give him the same message. Conor owed us a debt he could never repay. And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy us.”
Visitors to Leon County Jail sit in a row of chairs before a reinforced-glass partition, facing the inmates on the other side — like the familiar setup seen in movies. Kate took the seat opposite Conor, and he immediately told her how sorry he was. They both sobbed, and Kate told him what she had come to say. All during that emotional quarter of an hour, another woman in the visiting area had been loudly berating an inmate, her significant other, through the glass. After Conor and Kate “had had our moment,” as Kate puts it, they both found the woman’s screaming impossible to ignore. Maybe it was catharsis after the tears or the need to release an unbearable tension, but the endless stream of invective somehow struck the two of them as funny. Kate and Conor both started to laugh. Then Kate went back to the hospital to remove her daughter from life support.
Like a lot of people, my first response was to wonder if I could ever be that forgiving. I don’t know if I could. That level of forgiveness is admirable, but it’s also more than I’d ask of any person, including myself.
I thought blogger Rebecca Hamilton’s response was interesting:
I can’t talk about the things my constituents tell me. But I will say that there are people who form relationships with their children’s murderers and visit them in prison and actually claim they’ve come to love them. It’s not so unusual as you might think. It also isn’t so appealing in real life.
There is no one more lost and hollowed out than someone whose child has been murdered. They want something, some contact with their lost child, and they are searching for it in the person who murdered them. [...]
The grief-driven relationships that form between families of murder victims and their loved one’s murderer, whether they be burning hate or saintly forgiveness, are always at least partly a response to pain that cannot be borne. I do not take this pain lightly. I certainly do not approach miracles of forgiveness disrespectfully.
But they are not a reason to give light sentences to cold-blooded murderers. The emotions of those family members who are moved to vengeance are also not reasons to give life sentences to people who killed someone by accident, even if the accident included serious negligence or even violence. Murder is an intentional act committed by someone who intends to kill.
I don’t agree with everything Rebecca says; I think likelihood of reoffending is a reasonable things for judges to consider during sentencing, for instance. (And for parole officers to consider, as well). But I do share her concerns about victim-centered justice being capricious.
What do you think?