Can a woman forgive her only son’s murderer?
Yes, and he lives right next door and they attend church together.
Mary Johnson’s son, Laramiun Byrd, was only 20 when he was shot during an argument at a party in 1993 by 16-year-old O'shea Israel, according to CBS’ Assignment: America series.
After losing her only son she only asked for justice because “he was an animal. He deserved to be caged,” she told CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.
Israel was convicted of the murder of Byrd and was sentenced to 25 and a half years. He only served 17 and was recently released.
Johnson, a 59-year-old teacher's aid and devout Christian, felt the needed to meet Israel while he was still in his Minnesota state prison 12 years after his sentencing, hoping to forgive him.
In the documentary series "Smooch Documentaries," in tears she said about their first meeting, "I just hugged the man that murdered my son."
The power to forgive, which she gives God credit for, began by her saying, “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now” – something that baffled Israel at that time.
After he was released from prison she decided to invite him to move into her building where they now live next to each other and attend church service together as well as some prison ministries.
He can now wholeheartedly say, “Forgiveness is a powerful thing.”
He now works at a recycling plant and attends college by night. While he hasn’t forgiven himself, he hopes to one day give back to the woman that gave him a chance in life.
Johnson, who often sings praise songs, forgave him because to her “unforgiveness is like cancer” bound to “eat you from the inside out.”
Forgiving is not about the other person, she emphasized.
“It's not about that other person; me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son but the forgiveness is for me. It's for me."
With a smile on her face she can now say, "I treat him like a son, I talk to him like a son" while Israel complies, "She's my mother now, she's my second mother."
Johnson later founded the organization From Death to Life with the mission to reconcile families of victims and their predators.
On the Web: From Death to Life