“Forgiveness is not a pardon. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. You own me a debt you cannot pay, but I’m not collecting the debt.”
I knew Andy and Kate Grosmaire were ‘Vatican II’ Catholics before I even stepped inside; a statue of St. Francis stands among the trees in front of their house. Inside, I found more symbols of the church I grew up in; one devoted to humility and service rather Catholicism’s more recent preoccupation with moral rigidity. I looked forward to an evening among humble shepherds.
Kate and Andy are from Memphis. Andy landed a first job for the State of Florida in St. Petersburg and transferred to Tallahassee in the 1980’s, “If you’re a state employee, the gold is in Tallahassee.” Andy is now Bureau Chief at the Office of Financial Regulation; Kate is an IT consultant for the Florida Department of Transportation. They live five miles east of town, on a three-acre lot adjacent to the Greenway Trail that traverses miles of lush Florida hammock. “Ann had a horse; being near the trail was the main appeal of this house.”
Ann is dead now – shot in the face at age nineteen by her boyfriend Conor McBride. Kate and Andy have two other older daughters, but these days their life is defined by Ann’s murder, and their extraordinary response to it.
Ann and Conor had dated for several years, in the on again / off again way of teenage couples whose magnetic attraction short-circuits burgeoning individual identity. One summer Conor fought with his parents so hard that he came to live with the Grosmaire’s. He was accepted to Stanford, but decided to stay local. College success, independent living, and devotion to Ann swaled and crested. Conor asked Andy for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Neither Andy nor Kate thought the couple ready for that commitment, but they liked the boy, loved him really, and decided not to buck the inevitable. Marriage seemed ordained until one weekend Conor and Ann had an aching fight whose anger flowed into the following day. Unable to resolve the issue or cool off, Conor found his father’s gun, contemplated taking his own life, but shot Ann instead. He drove around Tallahassee in a daze until he turned himself in. Ann survived, comatose, for nearly a week. She died on Good Friday.
Somewhere in the fog of turmoil Kate realized that she would never understand the why of what happened, and didn’t need to know. Ann loved Conor; Conor loved Ann. Revenge and retaliation would deny that gift and cement their tragedy. Kate chose to honor the good between them. She forgave Conor. She visited him in jail. She learned about the penalties he faced. She embraced his parents. The two families explored options for a young man who made a fatal mistake.
When they learned about restorative justice, they cajoled the Florida judicial system to apply it, if awkwardly, to Conor’s case. “The pre-plea conference was not a complete success, but it was something that had to be done. We hoped to reach agreement as to what Conor’s sentence would be. Jack Campbell (prosecutor, now Florida State General) listened, but he did not reveal what the sentence would be at that time.” Conor McBride received a twenty-year sentence, no reduction allowed, to be followed by ten years of parole, community education and service; possibly the lightest sentence for first-degree murder ever in the state of Florida.
Kate has written a book about their restorative justice experience, Forgiving my Daughter’s Killer. The four parents have been profiled in the NY Times, featured on Good Morning America, and speak to groups interested in alternatives in our penal system. “The story is so much more powerful when all four of us are in the same room. People ask me, ‘How can you speak?’ Every time I speak, someone comes up and says, ‘I really needed to hear that today.’”
How will we live tomorrow?
“Andy wanted answers. He wanted to know what happened. I didn’t need to know. I knew it wasn’t going to make sense. I always knew it was bigger than the Grosmaire’s and the McBride’s and Conor and Ann. This can affect the world and the entire universe for the greater good.
“Anger is the easiest emotion to be in touch with, but we seek more. We understand that we need turmoil in order to bring us to the point we have to change. We cannot keep turning people away, which is what Florida does. We have to change.
“If enough people start to think in a certain way, it spreads beyond them. If six million people believe something, it can spread to the collective conscientiousness. We had never heard of restorative justice, but we have learned and we are spreading the word. Andy and I are not yet the snowball at the top of the hill, but we’re one of the people who are going to understand forgiveness in a way we cannot understand now.
“The core of what I believe is ‘God is love.’ If you are good with that, I am good with you. I feel like forgiveness has allowed me to transcend most of humanity. I reflected on that for a very long time. You become a teacher, you share your story, but you occupy a place that few other people do.” – Kate