In 2010, Conor McBride shot his girlfriend of three years, Ann Grosmaire, during an argument. She was 19. Almost immediately, he drove himself to a police station and turned himself in.
McBride and Grosmaire were incredibly close, and Grosmaire’s parents were very close with McBride as well. He stayed at their home often due to issues with his own family, and they fully expected the two would marry and give them grandchildren. They loved him.
When McBride was booked into jail, he put Grosmaire’s mother, Kate, on the permitted visitors list. Kate felt compelled to visit him:
At first she didn’t want to see him at all, but that feeling turned to willingness and then to a need. “Before this happened, I loved Conor,” she says. “I knew that if I defined Conor by that one moment — as a murderer — I was defining my daughter as a murder victim. And I could not allow that to happen.”
She asked her husband if he had a message for Conor. “Tell him I love him, and I forgive him,” he answered. Kate told me: “I wanted to be able to give him the same message. Conor owed us a debt he could never repay. And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy us.”
Visitors to Leon County Jail sit in a row of chairs before a reinforced-glass partition, facing the inmates on the other side — like the familiar setup seen in movies. Kate took the seat opposite Conor, and he immediately told her how sorry he was. They both sobbed, and Kate told him what she had come to say. All during that emotional quarter of an hour, another woman in the visiting area had been loudly berating an inmate, her significant other, through the glass. After Conor and Kate “had had our moment,” as Kate puts it, they both found the woman’s screaming impossible to ignore. Maybe it was catharsis after the tears or the need to release an unbearable tension, but the endless stream of invective somehow struck the two of them as funny. Kate and Conor both started to laugh. Then Kate went back to the hospital to remove her daughter from life support.
The Grosmaires continued to visit McBride in jail, and pushed for what is called “restorative justice.” This is a system outside adversarial trials where the offender, victims and law enforcement meet in a forum where each participant speaks—without interruption—and the parties come to a consensus on how to move forward and repair what had been done. Where it’s allowed, this approach is typically used for less serious crimes like property damage. The Grosmaires wanted to pursue it for the murder of their daughter. Their desire was granted, and after the process, they recommended 10-15 years in prison for McBride. McBride decided he should not have a say. Ultimately, because the decision was not for the Grosmaire’s to make, McBride was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 10 years of probation, but it was undoubtedly much less than what he would have received if he had went through the normal justice system.
This is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story, because of just how incredible the Grosmaires are for being willing to forgive McBride for something so utterly horrifying and life-shattering, and for advocating for him.
It is difficult to say that someone who murdered the person they loved in a flight of anger should be given leniency. That idea deeply bothers me, because such terrible crimes should be met with severe punishment. A woman just at the beginning of her life as an adult lost all of her future, and her family lost such a large part of theirs, because of his actions. But this case is different, too; McBride did not have a criminal history, nor a history of serious problems at school. The murder was not premeditated, but the result of a prolonged fight between the two, and McBride’s admitted deeply-engrained problem with anger. He turned himself in almost immediately after the crime. McBride did something unconscionably horrifying, and yet it is difficult to put him in the box we are so comfortable placing most murderers: the box labeled “evil.”
This is a unique case, one that most murder cases do not resemble. But there is something incredibly powerful about law enforcement, the victims (both the Grosmaires and McBride’s parents), and McBride, going through, one-by-one, what happened. Unfortunately, doing so did not—and could not—bring any greater sense of reason to what happened for the Grosmaires, because there is none. But it allowed them to hear directly from McBride what happened, and to be involved in his punishment and future. That may have provided a much greater sense of closure than a trial ever would, because the criminal justice system’s hearings, rules and procedures were stripped away from the event, and the people involved were able to discuss it directly, and everything that went into it.
The Grosmaires believe that forgiving McBride was necessary to allow themselves to move on and avoid the emotional black hole that something so devastating can become. They could have focused all of their emotions into anger and hatred at McBride for what h did to their daughter and their family, and while it may have been deserved, it can also destroy. But being forgiven—and the forum that resulted from the restorative process—also did something to McBride. Since her parents did not hate him, did not channel their anger against him and alienate him, he could not wallow in self-pity. By forgiving him, they forced him to grapple entirely with the weight of his actions, with the murder of the woman he loved. I doubt it is the time in prison that is important as a punishment in this case so much as it is the time in prison dealing with the total guilt of what he has done, and working to make himself a better person. McBride is truly lucky he has the chance to do all of that, because he certainly did not deserve the Grosmaire’s forgivance.
The Grosmaires want McBride to improve himself in prison, and to do good with his life when his term finishes. Kate told him he will have to “do the good works of two people because Ann is not here to do hers.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard more beautiful words than that. Rather than condemn McBride to prison for the rest of his life, the Grosmaires chose to save his life.