Monday, August 10, 2009

Written in Blood

by Susan Murphy Milano

Late on a Saturday night, Richard Langert and his pregnant wife, Nancy, arrived at their Winnetka, IL, townhouse after a family birthday party. It was April 7, 1990. Nancy, 25, was three-and-a-half months pregnant. She and Richard, 30, soon realized they were not alone. A teenager waited in their living room, a .357 magnum in his lap.

David Biro, a 16-year-old high-school student the Langerts had never met, sat up in an easy chair and pointed the gun at their heads. He bound the terrified young couple's wrists with handcuffs and led them to the basement.

"I'm pregnant. We're begging for our lives!" Nancy pleaded. "Please, please don't hurt us."

Instead, Biro blew Richard's brains out, splattering his blood over his terrified wife, who lay beside him.

Arms shielding her abdomen, Nancy continued to beg. "Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt my baby!" Biro shot Nancy in the stomach, instantly killing her unborn child. As she lay bleeding to death on the basement floor, Nancy called for help in the darkness. It never came. Before the young wife took her last breath, she expressed her undying love for her husband of three years. With his blood, she drew a heart and the letter "U" on the metal storage shelves above her.

Biro was arrested after he told a friend details of the killings. Convicted of murdering the Langerts and their unborn child, Biro is now serving three consecutive life terms in prison.

But for Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Nancy Langert's sister, Biro's punishment was not enough.

The very personal and high-profile tragedy drove Bishop-Jenkins to look for causes of such brutal and meaningless violence and for ways to help others protect themselves from it. She works to ensure no other family will have to suffer as hers did. These days she appears frequently in the news media, most recently on ABC's "Good Morning America" last week. She used her appearance to oppose the release of Manson family murderer Susan Atkins.

Bishop-Jenkins is also against second chances for juveniles like Biro. Several organizations are advocating that prisoners convicted of murder as adolescents get a second chance -- release from prison -- after serving 15 years. The argument is being pushed under HR 2289 – The Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009.

On Aug. 17, the Heritage Foundation is scheduled to debate the issue live on C-Span. The organization also will release the findings of a damaging report on "Adult Time for Adult Crimes: Exposing the Movement to Set Free Juvenile Killers and Violent Offenders." It lays out myths created by offender-advocate groups, which have spent over $10 million in the last two to three years publishing "poor child in jail" propaganda. They use photos that make it appear convicts who were 17 when they killed were much younger, often showing them as 10-year-olds. The one-sided myths omit detailed information about individual crimes, misleading readers into believing youthful killers might deserve a second chance.

In Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins's opinion, "the focus of those who support HR 2289 has been, up to this point, almost entirely offender-centered. The message being sent is too much about 'the poor kids in prison.' They need to change their approach to one built on not only strong partnerships with law-enforcement and violence-prevention professionals, but to one that is all about restorative-justice principals."

Restorative Justice is an approach that addresses the harm caused to victims and focuses on accountability for crime. Some offender advocates have attempted to hijack the restorative-justice process and turn it into simply this: the victim forgives and the killer gets out.

Victims' rights need to be heard, considered and protected! So, I ask: What do you think? Should Biro and others like him be released?


cheryl said...

I applaud her efforts,and I feel for her "victimhood", but Jenkins is comparing apples and oranges when she talks about Susan Atkins.

No, I wouldn't be comfortable with Biro living next door to me. Maybe I'm a sexist, but I think violent men are more dangerous (especially to a woman) than a woman who committed a violent act while under the influence of drugs and a madman.

greyhaunt said...

I think that like too many issues in law and morality it's there just isn't a way to make this all right or all wrong. Do I think Biro should get out? Hell no! Do I think all juvenile killers should be locked up for the rest of their lives and are not rehabilitatable? No, I don't.

You just can't tar them all with the same brush and say that because A,B and C are beyond hope so are D and E.

Ever see that movie "Heavenly Creatures"? It's based on the true story of two girls (in Australia I believe) who were going to be separated by one moving, and so together murdered one of their mothers in an effort to stay together. They went to prison, though not for life. One of them (the one whose mother was the victim) has pretty much faded from view, but the other grew up to be mystery author Anne Perry.

Certainly there is a world of difference between what she did as a teen, and what Biro did - but that's why we have to judge each case individually and not lump them all together as both sides of this issue seem to do.

As for Susan Atkins....would we not show ourselves to be the greater humans if we allowed her to die outside prison walls?

Anonymous said...

While I do not have a problem with a 17 year old getting an adult sentence, I do have a problem with a 12, 13 or even 15 year old getting one. It seems to me that someone like Biro needs help & punishment. I think that is a huge flaw in our justice system that needs to be fixed ASAP.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The GOP-dominated Texas Legislature and Gov. Perry disagree with you. This year they capped penalties for capital murder by juveniles at 40 years and eliminated LWOP for juveniles.

Particularly with your cynical view of "restorative justice," I'd say you're promoting some "one-sided myths" of your own.

Cheryl said...

I believe each individual should be judged ...well individually. I agree with grayhaunt not all juvenile killers should be locked up for the rest of their lives.

Studies have been conducted that show the brain of a teenage is not fully developed. Yes they know the basics, right from wrong etc., but their thinking and reasoning abilities are not always fully developed at 15, 16 & even 17. They are more susceptible to drug use, peer pressure, fitting in and a whole host of other things that lead them to do wrong sometimes.

I'm not saying it gives them the green light to commit a crime nor is it an excuse, but sometimes they don't even know why they do the things they do.

As for Biro, I don't have all the facts, but from what I have read here,\ he should never see the light of day.

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins said...

First, re Susan Atkins - the clip included by Good Morning America in the final piece, as one might expect with major media, did not at all capture the point of my conversation with them or my agreeing to do the interview. The issue in that case is only this: proponents for Ms Atkins are saying it will save taxpayers money to let her out, but this cannot be the case - it will only transfer from Peter to Paul. No private insurance will cover her, she will surely go on some sort of Medicaid, unless there are millions of her own or family money stored up waiting for her (which should then go to victims for restitution, should it not?). The money argument is irrelevant. It comes down to this: Susan Atkins has, laudably, said she is sorry for what she has done - really sorry for the victims families and the agony she has caused their lives. They have in turn asked that she simply serve out her sentence - quietly - and allow them to not have to deal with her anymore. She should do that. She should because she committed one of the worst mass murders in US History. She should because she has and still can do a great deal of good from where she is. She has married - twice - with conjugal visits behind bars. She has been a speaker and teacher, talked to the media, written extensively, and sold jewelry and art, etc to support her cause. She does owe it to the families to give them peace and stop being the issue. If I had known that GMA would do more of the same (not what they told me) in focusing once again on poor Ms. Atkins, not a mention of the horrific crimes and the brutalized families left behind, then I would not have participated as I did.

Second, I support what Texas did with JLWOP this year - exactly what we have been recommending - prospective changes only - that respect victims rights - and that abolish JLWOP only for 15 and under, leaving it intact where needed in those rare but real cases where a 17 year old, usually, demonstrates that highest level of evil behavior.

And while the term Restorative Justice is a broad term, with a sweeping scope in terms of its history, applications, and philosophy, we should all be able to agree on one thing about it, if we understand it at all - that Restorative Justice requires ALL the stakeholders that choose to be at the table to be IN the conversation.

JLWOP offender advocates have spent millions and millions and millions over the last four years putting out often false information about the issue, and never talking about the crimes, only the poor "children" in prison. But most were 17 - often repeat offenders previously paroled - and many knowingly, acting alone, not on impulse, planning torturous and horrific murders. Knowing the facts of some of these, even offender advocates agree that many should never get out.

So lets be clear. The sentence needs some reforming, and as long as it remains an option to keep the worst of the worst safely apart from us, and while we search for ways not to torture victims families any more than they already have, and give them the legal finality they deserve, we can fix this, I believe.

But offender advocates need to come to the table with ALL the stakeholders. They have to stop being mad at us victims families for being concerned about this. They need to build the bridges we have offered to help build. As of yet, they have not taken us up on our offer.

Please see for more information.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

Anonymous said...

What an incredibly sad and senseless thing to happen. You asked if we think kids like these should get a second chance. My answer is no. They didn't give their victims a second chance. They're lucky society even allows them to live. To give them a second chance to murder more people is not acceptable. They should die behind bars. Actions have consequences, and people, even if they are young people, should be required to pay the full consequences for stealing the love, the joy, the potential, of another human life. Not to mention destroying the lives of everyone who knew and loved them. If you've taken a life in anything other than self defense, you deserve capital punishment. It's bad enough that the victims families are forced to pay taxes which support them in prison. But to just let them out early and allow them the freedom to destroy still more lives, despite having already shown they were deadly dangerous to their fellow human beings... that's completely unacceptable.

Jan said...

If a juvenile is getting an LWOP, generally the crime is pretty horrible. I don't think that this option should be taken away from judges. Some murderers are not redeemable and will always be a danger to society. Just because they are under 18 when the crime is committed, that doesn't mean they don't know what they are doing. Most people their age know that killing is wrong and manage to keep from crossing that line.

Thank you for standing up for victims' rights. Those of us left behind after murder often feel marginalized and invisible. It's hard to see so much sympathy showered on those who have committed terrible crimes, while no one bothers to notice the destroyed lives of family and friends, or agonizes about how to help improve the quality of their lives.

secondchancesupporter said...

I truly understand that alot of people have had family memebers or friends victimized by juvenile offenders, but yall tend to not realize that a good majority of them were the age of 15 or less,plus it was there first offense. I'm not saying that every juvenile sentenced to life deserves a second chance after brutally killing someone. A high percentage of them that are here in Louisiana prisons, didn't brutally murder someone. I have a friend who has been in the adult prison since he was 15, he is now 31. He lived in government housing and his family was the only white family living there. Everyday he was harassed and the police didn't do nothing to help his family. He was armed robbed by an "adult" one day, so he had no choice but to defend himself, it was either him 6ft under or go to prison to be able to stay alive. So, he chose to live. His case was a total mess and he had a corrupt judge "Timothy Ellender" I'm sure yall have heard of him he has been in trouble these past years and its known nationally. They whole point in this is that you can't go around saying that every juvenile who has be sentenced to JLWOP doesn't deserve a second chance, everybody's case is different. Also, I don't know why everybody trust in this country's justice system. Alot are locked up, cause of how much money they can bring in. Example:read the articles about the lawyers and judges in Florida. Google it! Oh and the bill in congress clearly states that not every juvenile offender will be "considered for parole". Its really sad that no one realizes that Charles Manson, "an adult mass murder" gets chances to go to parole hearings so why can't juvenile offenders get that chance, when yall believe its okay for Charles Manson. Start a rally on that one and leave the innocent juvenile offenders alone!