Restorative justice consists of a meeting between the victim, the accused, law enforcement, a facilitator and sometimes affected family members. Everyone shares their experience of the crime and the damage it caused them, then the accused is given the opportunity to share what led to the crime and how they, too, were affected by it. Then the group decides, with input from everyone, what can be done going forward.
Usually restorative justice is used for property damage, theft, or other non-violent crimes. This is a landmark case where it was used successfully in a murder case.
The mediator, Sujatha Baliga, has her own inspiring story of forgiveness and learning to overcome anger. Everyone involved in the case has been touched by the approach.
It's very long, but filled with beautiful quotes like the following:
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.”
Four days later, Ann’s condition had not improved, and her parents decided to remove her from life support. Andy says he was in the hospital room praying when he felt a connection between his daughter and Christ; like Jesus on the cross, she had wounds on her head and hand. (Ann had instinctually reached to block the gunshot, and lost fingers.) Ann’s parents strive to model their lives on those of Jesus and St. Augustine, and forgiveness is deep in their creed. “I realized it was not just Ann asking me to forgive Conor, it was Jesus Christ,” Andy recalls. “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.’ ” Jesus or no Jesus, he says, “what father can say no to his daughter?”
Conor was prone to bursts of irrational rage. Ann never told her parents that he had struck her several times. Michael now feels, with searing regret, that he presented a bad example of bad-tempered behavior. “Conor learned how to be angry” is how he put it to me.
When it was Michael McBride’s turn to speak, sorrow overtook him and he told the group that if he had ever thought his shotgun would have harmed another person, he never would have kept it. Kate Grosmaire didn’t bring it up at the conference, but she says she has thought a lot about that gun. “If that gun had not been in the house, our daughter would be alive,” she told me.
As Conor told the story, Andy’s whole body began to shake. “Let me get this right,” he said, and asked Conor about Ann being on her knees. Baliga remembers Andy’s demeanor at this moment: “Andy is a very gentle person, but there was a way at that moment that he was extremely strong. There was just this incredible force of the strong, protective, powerful father coursing through him.” Conor answered, clarifying precisely how helpless Ann was at the moment he took her life.
The Grosmaires said they didn’t forgive Conor for his sake but for their own. “Everything I feel, I can feel because we forgave Conor,” Kate said. “Because we could forgive, people can say her name. People can think about my daughter, and they don’t have to think, Oh, the murdered girl. 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 where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”
Still, their forgiveness affected Conor, too, and not only in the obvious way of reducing his sentence. “With the Grosmaires’ forgiveness,” he told me, “I could accept the responsibility and not be condemned.” Forgiveness doesn’t make him any less guilty, and it doesn’t absolve him of what he did, but in refusing to become Conor’s enemy, the Grosmaires deprived him of a certain kind of refuge — of feeling abandoned and hated — and placed the reckoning for the crime squarely in his hands.
Kate Grosmaire keeps asking herself if she has really forgiven Conor. “I think about it all the time,” she said. “Is that forgiveness still there? Have I released that debt?” Even as the answer comes back yes, she says, it can’t erase her awareness of what she no longer has. “Forgiving Conor doesn’t change the fact that Ann is not with us. My daughter was shot, and she died. I walk by her empty bedroom at least twice a day.”