Can forgiveness play a role in criminal justice?

That’s the provocative headline that accompanies a story I’ve been pondering ever since Amy Welborn brought it to our attention. The New York Times Sunday magazine piece runs about 7,000 words and it’s completely riveting. You can — and should — read it here.

It begins with 19-year-old Conor McBride turning himself into police for shooting Ann Margaret Grosmaire, his girlfriend of three years, in the head. He shot her after 38 hours of fighting. Then:

That night, Andy Grosmaire, Ann’s father, stood beside his daughter’s bed in the intensive-care unit of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The room was silent except for the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator keeping her alive. Ann had some brainstem function, the doctors said, and although her parents, who are practicing Catholics, held out hope, it was clear to Andy that unless God did “wondrous things,” Ann would not survive her injuries. Ann’s mother, Kate, had gone home to try to get some sleep, so Andy was alone in the room, praying fervently over his daughter, “just listening,” he says, “for that first word that may come out.”

Ann’s face was covered in bandages, and she was intubated and unconscious, but Andy felt her say, “Forgive him.” His response was immediate. “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But Andy kept hearing his daughter’s voice: “Forgive him. Forgive him.”

At first he told his daughter she was asking too much. Then we hear about Conor’s parents Michael and Julie McBride. They were on vacation at the time of the shooting and the father rushed home — to the hospital, before the jail.

During the drive, he hadn’t thought about what he would actually do when he got to the hospital, and he had to take deep breaths to stave off nausea and lean against the wall for support. Andy approached Michael and, to the surprise of both men, hugged him. “I can’t tell you what I was thinking,” Andy says. “But what I told him was how I felt at that moment.”

“Thank you for being here,” Andy told Michael, “but I might hate you by the end of the week.”

“I knew that we were somehow together on this journey,” Andy says now. “Something had happened to our families, and I knew being together rather than being apart was going to be more of what I needed.”

And that’s how this amazing story begins — with two families benefiting from forgiveness in the face of a horrific murder.

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