Ayvaunn Penn, All Christian News
I have a cousin who was shot and killed at a party in high school. Every year for the past 15 plus years, my aunt and uncle gather signatures from family and friends to keep the perpetrator behind bars. Perhaps this is because they do not trust that the young man will not inflict the same pain of losing a child on another family. Could this story have ended differently? Is it possible that with a thing called restorative justice and a little forgiveness that they would feel at peace should the young man be released? Is it possible to feel assured that a perpetrator set free will not strike again? The case of Connor McBride suggests that the answer to all of the latter questions could be “yes.” Yes, forgiveness just might be powerful enough to put an end to recidivism.
First of all, let us address what restorative justice is. As explained by Ryan Pfluger of The New York Times, restorative justice “considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends. And it allows victims, who often feel shut out of the prosecutorial process, a way to be heard and participate.” In the United States, it is primarily carried out in the form of restorative-justice diversion. In this form the procedure proceeds as explained, once again, by Pfluger:
“Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the adversarial legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process. All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator and law enforcement — come together in a forum sometimes called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done.
This process is typically only applied in minor cases such as property offenses and the like where wrongs can very clearly — and fairly easily be righted. However, in the rare case of Conor McBride, restorative-justice diversion was applied to murder.
McBride and his girlfriend, Ann Margaret Grosmaire, had been together for three years, and they were both 19-years-old. Just as any ordinary couple, they argued over little things, but on this particular occasion things escalated out of control as the conflict stretched over two days. “At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride…walked into the Tallahassee Police Department…approached the desk in the main lobby…[and told officials] ‘You need to arrest me. I just shot my fiancée in the head.This is not a joke,'” reports The New York Times. Sources say that the young man was sobbing. He was taken into custody.
This is where things take an unusual turn. Instead of the Grosmaire family becoming cold-hearted towards the family of the perpetrator, they actually remained in communication with the McBride family. Not only did they keep the lines open with the family of the young man who killed their daughter, they were actually the ones to suggest restorative justice to the McBride family. The McBride’s lawyer, though initially apprehensive, arranged for a forum between all parties involved.
At the forum, Conor not only hugged his parents — with the special permission of the officer present — but the parents of Ann Grosmaire. The forum then proceed with the Grosmaire’s giving their testimony. “There were no kid gloves, none,” said McBride’s lawyer, “It was really, really tough. Way tougher than anything a judge could [have said] (to Conor).” Conor later testified, “Hearing the pain in their voices (the Grosmaire’s) and what my actions had done really opened my eyes to what I’ve caused.”
In this particular murder case, the restorative justice process allowed for all parties to get everything out in the open face-to-face in an intimate setting. All parties were forced to confront issues head on with the people affected. In this case, it ended in forgiveness. The Grosmaires say that they did not forgive Conor for his sake but for their own. On the other hand, Conor states, ” With the Grosmaires’ forgiveness, I [can] accept the responsibility and not be condemned.” At the same time, he confesses to having abrupt moments of realization. He adds, “There are moments when [I] realize: I am in prison. I am in prison because I killed someone. I am in prison because I killed the girl I loved.”
Following the forum, Conor was given two choices for punishment: a 20-year sentence plus 10 years of probation, or 25 years in prison. Conor accepted the first. The officiating delegate is reported to have said that he hopes he made the right decision for Conor’s punishment because if Conor kills another person, he “screwed up.” Nonetheless, the McBride lawyer seems to be at peace with the idea that, because all the underlying issues that lead to this murder were addressed, Conor will never commit this crime again. She states:
“I’m not worried about him getting out in 20 years at all. We got to look more deeply at the root of where this behavior came from than we would have had it gone a trial route — the anger issues in the family, exploring the drama in their relationship, the whole conglomeration of factors that led to that moment. There’s no explaining what happened, but there was just a much more nuanced conversation about it, which can give everyone more confidence that Conor will never do this again. And the Grosmaires got answers to questions that would have been difficult to impossible to get in a trial.”
Could it be true? Could restorative justice lead to forgiveness in other murder cases? Could restorative justice actually put an end to recidivism? This case certainly gives hope to the possibility. So far so good. Conor is currently working in the prison’s law library. He also voluntarily enrolled in anger-management classes sponsored by the prison. Conor told The New York Times that upon his release, he hopes to volunteer at animal shelters because Ann was very fond of animals. Finally, he says he will speak to local groups about teen-dating violence as directed by his probation stipulations.
The founder of The Penn Speaks and Your Black Poets, Ayvaunn Penn is an award-winning writer pursuing her graduate degrees in dramatic writing and acting. To follow her on Facebook, click here. To have Ayvaunn Penn feature your original poetry on Your Black Poets, click here.