Would you be able to look your daughter's boyfriend in the eye after he had hurt her and say 'I forgive you'? How about if that boyfriend was also your daughter's murderer?

Most would answer no, probably to both of the questions above, but especially to the second. However, one set of parents shocked a community by saying just the opposite. When the parents were confronted by the tragedy of this crime and who had committed it, the normal emotions surged through their bodies - anger, hurt, and the question of why?

However, hovering around his daughter's deathbed, the father heard her asking him to 'forgive him' over and over again. In shock he internally protested, but eventually did what most fathers do and gave in to his little girl's wishes. While the pain and sorrow made the act of forgiveness difficult, the couple's faith and love of their daughter, allowed them to grant their daughter's dying wish and begin the healing process through forgiveness.

Thus began a long journey towards finding a means of preventing one lost life leading to another locked away and lost in prison for life. The family, in meeting with the prosecutor discussed their options and through a local pastor, heard about restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a type of mediation process where rather than focusing on the crime and how to punish the criminal sufficiently, all concerned and affected by the actions of the crime meet together face-to-face in an effort to strive for an agreement on a just outcome that helps all parties begin to heal. In this particular case, it would help the family to forgive, the boyfriend to justly mend his ways, and the families to come together to help each other recover.

While it had never before been tried on a murder case, the families convinced the prosecutors, lawyers, and even a well renowned restorative justice legal expert to participate in the process. Though a heart-wrenching process in which each party had to listen to the boyfriend's story in detail, a deal was struck that all could accept. 20 years in prison plus 10 years probation. The parties involved in the process perceive this as remedial, just, and groundbreaking in this type of legal procedure. It will be interesting to see if this type of creative criminal defense can thrive nationwide. The pain continues, but so does the healing.

Source: The New York Times, "Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?," Paul Tullis, Jan. 4, 2013

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