“Conor owed us a debt he could never repay,” said the parents
of a daughter killed by gunshot. “And releasing him from that debt
would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy
As Paul Tullis writes for the New York Times, what these parents are talking
about is forgiveness. And when it comes to forgiveness, Tullis asks whether
or not there’s a role for it in major felony cases like homicide,
as opposed to traditional sentencing within the criminal justice system.
Conor and his girlfriend Ann had been arguing heatedly for more than a
day or two, by phone and text message and in-person. It culminated with
Ann on her knees, saying “No, don’t!” and Conor pulling
the trigger of a gun.
Conor turned himself in and is now serving a prison sentence for homicide.
But when the case was in progress, the parties sought a “restorative-justice
conference” with Conor. Restorative justice is an alternative method
of proceeding with a criminal case, in which all concerned parties speak
and punishment is considered outside of traditional criminal justice norms.
Restorative justice focuses on the victim and the victim’s family
(as well as the offender and the community) as opposed to just looking
at how to punish the offender.
The result is that each party hears from the other in a way that wouldn’t
be possible during a traditional trial. For instance, Ann’s parents
heard the entire story about Ann’s shooting, in detail, directly
Ultimately, the prosecutor offered a 20-year plea deal, which was higher
than the 10 to 15 suggested by Ann’s parents, but it did show a
rare example of restorative justice at work in a major felony case.