Jan. 7, 2013 at 10:07 AM ET
After their daughter was murdered in a fit of rage by her fiancee in 2010, a Florida couple decided to do the hardest thing possible – forgive him.
Instead of pushing for a life sentence for their daughter’s killer, Andy and Kate Grosmaire chose to pursue a process called restorative justice, which they learned about after a church friend referred them to an Episcopal priest who works in the Florida prison system. An alternative to a criminal trial, restorative justice gathers the families of both parties, the accused, and law enforcement in the same room to talk about the crime and determine how best to repair the damage done.
The Grosmaires met with Conor McBride, who had admitted to police that he had shot their daughter, Ann Grosmaire, with his father’s shotgun on March 28, 2010, after two days of arguing with her. McBride’s parents were also part of the process, which began while Ann was still on life support for four days after being shot before she died.
The Grosmaires appeared on TODAY Monday to speak to Savannah Guthrie about making the decision to forgive their daughter’s murderer, and the McBrides joined the interview from their home in Tallahassee, Fla.
“I felt like my daughter was asking me to forgive Conor, and I just told her I couldn’t, and there’s just no way I could,’’ Andy Grosmaire told Guthrie. “At the end I said, ‘I’ll try.’ Later on in that week, on Thursday, I really felt like my daughter was joined with Christ, and that he and her were asking me to forgive. And I just had never said no before to them, so I wasn’t going to say no this time. It was just an uplifting of joy and peace.’’
“I think we’re all surprised at the depth of forgiveness we can have,’’ Julie McBride said. “I think we don’t really know what we’re capable of forgiving until we’re actually in the situation, whether it’s a driver cutting you off at a red light or circumstances this tragic. Andy and Kate Grosmaire have publicly demonstrated what true forgiveness looks like.’’
A wrenching choice
While the Grosmaires eventually reached the decision to pursue restorative justice instead of a trial after McBride was charged with first-degree murder, it was a wrenching choice. McBride, who was 19 when he murdered their daughter, is currently serving a 20-year sentence, which is much shorter than usual in these crimes. The family had asked prosecutors for a 15-year sentence.
“We’re not offering a pardon to him,’’ Andy Grosmaire said. “The forgiveness frees us. It keeps us from going to prison with Conor. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. They say your heart can hurt. That day, my heart really hurt. I physically felt like it hurt, and it was just very difficult.’’
One of the most arduous parts of the healing process for the couple came when Kate Grosmaire visited Conor McBride in prison. The two families had been close since Conor and Ann started dating when they attended Leon County High School in Tallahassee together.
“I was very nervous going, because Andy had told me the night before that he wanted his message to Conor to be that he loved him and he forgave him,’’ Kate Grosmaire told Guthrie. “I wanted to take that same message to Conor, but I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to say those words when I saw him face to face.
“During the week I had told Conor’s parents that I could not judge Conor by that moment because if I did, then I was defining Ann by that moment as well simply as a murder victim, and she was so much more than that. Through the nerves I went up to visit him, and the first thing he did was he cried and said how sorry he was. I told him, ‘Mr. Grosmaire loves you, and he forgives you,’ and I said, ‘Conor, you know I love you, and I forgive you.’’’
'It's so human'
Michael McBride, Conor’s father, also made the difficult decision to visit the hospital while Ann was still on life support.
“Julie was really worried about me driving in such a state of shock,’’ he told Guthrie. “She told me she loved me, to drive safely, and had the wisdom to say, ‘Go to the hospital.’
“I really didn’t have any vision of what the hospital would be like. I didn’t think about what I would say or do, and I definitely didn’t consider the reception that I might encounter. I just knew I had to go. It was the right thing to do.’’
When the Grosmaires decided to pursue the restorative justice approach, prosecutor Jack Campbell of the state attorney’s office had not heard of the process. But he respected their wishes.
“The Grosmaires found this process through their faith, their experience, and (found) the process to be cathartic and to be helpful for their feelings,’’ Campbell told NBC News. “This may be one way to help the parents, but it’s certainly not a fix-all tool.’’
“To have people sit down at the table and be able to engage in this dialogue, it’s so human,’’ said Sujatha Balinga of the Restorative Justice Project National Council on Crime and Delinquency, who worked on the Grosmaires’ case.
After Kate Grosmaire visited McBride in jail, she was asked by Balinga how she felt about forgiving him after such a tragedy. The Grosmaires still go to visit McBride in prison once a month.
“I told her, ‘I’ll have to think about everything he said today,’ and I did consciously think about every detail that he gave, and challenged myself, is that forgiveness still there?’’ Grosmaire said. “And it was, and it still is today.’’
A hat tip to The New York Times Magazine for its piece about the Grosmaire family and restorative justice, "Can forgiveness play a role in criminal justice?"