Conor McBride is serving 20 years at Wakulla Correctional Institution for killing his fiancée, Ann Grosmaire, when they were both 19. It could have been a life sentence, but her parents asked the state attorney for less time. Now, Kate and Andy Grosmaire are helping to drive the expansion of restorative justice practices in Leon County.
As part of his agreement with the Grosmaires, whom he knew well after dating their daughter for three years, McBride cut this PSA for the Florida Restorative Justice Association.
"If you're in a relationship that seems out of control…if you feel like you're out of control…if you don't understand why you're doing it, why you're hurting the person you love or the person you love is hurting you, seek help. Please. Seek help."
McBride shot Ann during a fight in 2010, after what he describes in the PSA as several incidents in which he hit her. Now he helps to lead anger management classes for other inmates in hopes of preventing such crimes by others.
"We knew that Conor could never repay us for what had happened," Kate Gromaire says. "We were never going to get our daughter back, and the thing we could do was to let go of that. After we forgave him, we wanted to have a say in the process of the criminal justice proceedings against him."
Restorative justice is typically used for lesser crimes, such as vandalism or theft. It involves paying restitution, taking responsibility, and never committing that harm again – all under the auspices of the courts. The case of Ann and Conor is one of the first known modern uses of the practice following a homicide.
"We had the opportunity to add provisions to his probation, such as taking anger management classes, speaking about teen dating violence, and working in the community in areas that Ann would have worked," Kate Grosmaire says. "I told Conor he had to do the good works of two people, and he's taken that to heart."
People often tell the Grosmaires, "I could never do what you've done." But they and other practitioners of restorative justice say it prevents crime.
Agnes Furey is known as "Saint Agnes" for her work with Leonard Scovens, who murdered her daughter Pat and grandson Chris in 1998.
"In some of our early correspondence, he asked me, 'What can I do?' Well, you can't fix it,'" Furey recalls. "What you can do is, you can make a difference where you are."
It took seven years for her to contact Scovens, who is serving two life sentences.
"It may not be the community he would choose to live in, but it is part of our community, our wider community. And he can make a difference that might make a difference for somebody coming out. Most of his peers will come back and live with all of us. If he can reach even one of those people, that can make a difference for somebody else's neighborhood."
According to the Florida Restorative Justice Association, nearly 75 percent of people convicted of violent crimes will be arrested again. Dan Kahn, its executive director, points to the success of Leon County's Community Connections program at reducing recidivism among teens with an intensive 12-week program.
"Our recidivism rate is right around 12 percent, which compared to similarly situated youth are closer to 27 percent countywide," Kahn says. "Another statistic which I love is that a third of the teens who graduate from our program come back to us as volunteers, and on their own time with no compulsion, participate in another 3- or 4-month cycle with us to give back to other teens that are participating."
In schools, Kahn says restorative justice practices can run from daily classroom activities through moderate level conflicts to a full-blown crisis.
"If you've got a practice in a school that really helps every student to feel included, their voices matter, there's an ethic of respect and consideration, that's going to breed a culture in which there's less chance of any kind of violent act erupting. So restorative practices can be highly preventative and proactive."
To learn more about restorative justice, you can attend a documentary screening and panel discussion on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at Tallahassee's Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 4665 Thomasville Road.