On March 28, 2010, Conor McBride walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and told the officer on duty, “You need to arrest me. I just shot my fiancée in the head.” An hour earlier, he shot Ann Margaret Grosmaire, his girlfriend of three years. They had been fighting for 38 hours, culminating when McBride shot her in the face. Four days later, after her condition did not improve, her parents removed her from life support.
As his daughter lay in ICU, Andy Grosmaire felt he heard her say, “Forgive him.” “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But he kept hearing Ann’s voice, “Forgive him. Forgive him.” As he was praying later in her room, “I realized it was not just Ann asking me to forgive Conor, it was Jesus Christ. And I hadn’t said no to him before, and I wasn’t going to start then. It was just a wave of joy, and I told Ann: ‘I will. I will.'” His wife came to the same decision: “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.”
The prosecutor was extremely skeptical. But the Grosmaires’ desire to forgive their daughter’s killer eventually led him to recommend 20 years in prison plus 10 years of probation rather than a life sentence. Ann’s mother said later, “Everything I feel, I can feel because we forgave Conor. . . . I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. 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 when this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”
Biblical forgiveness is pardon, choosing not to punish. There are times when such a decision, while difficult, is not complicated. This is not such a situation. On one hand, the Grosmaires’ decision to forgive Conor will enable him to redeem his crime after he leaves prison in a way he could not if he were there for life. For instance, he is already planning to volunteer in animal shelters, because Ann loved animals. And he will speak to local groups about teen-dating violence. I am deeply moved by the Grosmaires’ decision and can only hope that I would be so obedient to God’s leading.
But some will ask: what if all criminals were treated in this way? Would killers go free to kill again? The state has an obligation to seek justice for the victim, but also to protect society from further criminal acts. Capital punishment exists especially for this purpose; should it be suspended if victims or their families forgive the criminal?
What are your thoughts? And know this: whatever society should do about crime and its consequences, our Father’s grace is greater than all our sins (1 John 1:9). What was the last sin God forgave in your life? Who needs your pardon today?