Forgive Your Daughter’s Murderer?

Forgiveness intrigues and intimidates me. I have trouble forgiving the clerk who charged me for a double latte when I got just a single, so the thought of forgiving someone who has committed a crime is intimidating. Jesus warned his followers that, if they didn’t forgive others’ offenses, God would not forgive them their own offenses (Matthew 6:15). So we keep working on forgiving, and I am inspired by stories of forgiveness.

One such story was reported in the New York Times this week. (Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?) Parents of a young woman forgave the man who murdered their daughter, through a “restorative justice” process where the murderer—the daughter’s boyfriend—met together with the victim’s parents, his own parents, the lawyers and a facilitator. Each described the impact from their perspective, and then offered what they thought the consequence should be. I have received training in restorative justice, and have facilitated a few such conferences, but only where the crime was petty—shoplifting, or vandalism. It’s quite rare for it to involve a personal crime, and even more rare for the crime to be murder.

An Episcopal priest who works as a prison chaplain is the one who suggested the restorative justice process to this family. Although the parents are Catholic, it sounds like the facilitator they selected did not integrate spiritual principles into the process. I agree with one of the article’s commenters, who expressed surprise that the family searched for a “national expert” in restorative justice but overlooked Howard Zehr—and Mark Umbreit. Both of these men have been national leaders in this field for decades, and, unlike the facilitator selected, have experience with restorative justice involving murder.

The results were mixed, but it sounds like the parents are glad that they went through this process. “When people can’t forgive, they’re stuck,” said the mother, Kate Grosmaire. “All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment. I can be sad, but I don’t have to stay stuck in that moment where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness was for me self-preservation.”


  1. Posted January 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Both Andy and Julie contacted many RJ practitioners, including Umbreit, and Howard Zehr, who suggested Sujatha Baliga. Howard followed the case closely though he was not directly involved: See “The Call of Restorative Justice P1/2” on YouTube. Magazine articles often share in one sentence what took weeks to accomplish, leaving out important details. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this article.

  2. Posted January 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the clarification!

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