The Restoration of Faith

How we might strive for a broader understanding of retribution

01 February 2013

ON A RECENT WEEKEND I picked up the New York Times that is delivered in a blue polythene bag outside my door each morning, and read a story about a young man who had fatally shot his girlfriend during a fight. The young man’s name was Conor McBride and the victim’s name was Ann Margaret Grosmaire. Both were 19 when this happened, in March 2010, in Tallahassee, Florida.

The reporter, Paul Tullis, introduced an early note about what made the story unusual. Ann’s father, Andy Grosmaire, standing next to his “intubated and unconscious” daughter in hospital, heard her say before her death, “Forgive him.” Conor, when he was booked, was asked to provide the names of five people who could visit him in jail. He included the name of Ann’s mother, Kate Grosmaire. Talking to the reporter who had written the story, Kate explained her desire to go and see Conor in prison, “Before this happened, I loved Conor. 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.”

The state attorney’s office had charged Conor McBride with first-degree murder; this meant that he was likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. (As the case didn’t have any aggravating circumstances, like prior convictions or the victim being a child, the prosecutors were probably not likely to seek the death penalty.) But Ann’s parents told the assistant state attorney that they didn’t want Conor to spend the rest of his life in prison. The concept that the Grosmaires had embraced, together with Conor’s parents, Julie and Michael McBride, was that of “restorative justice”, a not very widely known practice based on the idea of victim–offender dialogue.

Amitava Kumar is a professor of English at Vassar College in upstate New York, USA. His latest book, A Time Outside This Time: A Novel, will be published by Aleph next year.

Keywords: Delhi gang-rape restorative justice penal system death penalty sexual abuse National Council on Crime and Delinquency Sujatha Baliga