Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2000 / 5 Elul 5761
They killed a 3-year-old boy -- and they are free
COLUMBUS, Ohio | The victim had been beaten so severely that his brain was bleeding. His
assailants had also bitten him deeply on various parts of his body, leaving
teeth marks in his flesh as clear as professional dental impressions. They had
dragged him around by his ears, which were bruised and swollen. Then, after
they were through hurting him, they hogtied him -- they bound his ankles
together with tape, and tightly taped his wrists together behind his back, so
that he could not move.
Then they left him to die.
He was 3 years old.
He weighed 34 pounds.
His name was Patrick Bourgeois Jr., known to his family as P.J.
The killers were his father, Patrick Bourgeois, and his father's
girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton.
They are walking around free this morning.
They were released from prison before they would have been eligible to
appear before a parole board -- released by a judge who feels they have shown
sufficient remorse for killing that little boy, and that they do not belong
Because of the way the case progressed in the Franklin County courts, not a
single witness was ever heard. Bourgeois and Bratton are out on the streets --
he in central Ohio, she in Pennsylvania -- without anyone ever testifying in a
courtroom about what was done to that 3-year-old child.
The judge, in freeing the killers from prison (they had each pleaded guilty
to involuntary manslaughter), said that what they did to the child was
"fraught with ignorance, immaturity and inexperience, more than malevolence."
Because of the absence of sworn testimony in the case, the absence of
direct- or cross-examination, it is unclear on what possible evidence the
judge based her conclusion.
The child's death was a product of "immaturity and inexperience," and not
of malevolence? Certainly that is how the killers wanted the judge -- Franklin
County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller -- to regard what they had done:
as a case of parenting gone inadvertently bad, as an example of misguided
disciplining of a misbehaving boy.
Judge Miller could see Patrick Bourgeois standing in front of her, asking
her for mercy; she could see Tracy Bratton standing in front of her, asking
her for mercy. She granted their wishes.
There was a person who could not stand in the courtroom and ask for mercy:
P.J. Bourgeois. He had been sentenced to death -- by his father and his
father's girlfriend. His sentence had been carried out.
In order to attempt to understand a crime such as this one, and how such an
apparent injustice as the release of the killers can take place, it is
necessary to speak not of the failure of some vague "system," but to look as
closely as possible at the specific details. What happened to this child --
how was it that the full story of his death was never told under oath? And why
was there no objection in court to the freeing from prison of the man and
woman who killed the child?
We have sought out, located and interviewed the people who know exactly
what happened to that little boy. Their testimony was never heard in court --
but it paints an indelible and incontrovertible picture of P.J. Bourgeois'
death, and what happened after.
In the days to come, you will hear from these people: the paramedics who
went to the child's home and tried to save him; the medical personnel at
Children's Hospital, where the child's battered and bleeding body was
transported; the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on the child;
the homicide detective whose job it was to find out what was done to the boy,
and who had done it; the emergency medical services coordinator nurse who was
on duty at Children's when P.J. was brought in. . . .
You will also hear from the judge herself; from the county prosecutor; from
one of the killers; from the defense attorney for the other killer. We have
spoken with all of them, in the hopes that by finding out how all of this
happened, there is some lesson that will help prevent such a thing from
happening again -- that will do some good, at long last, in preventing the
further betrayal of other voiceless children.
Judge Miller may believe that what was done to P.J. Bourgeois was not a
matter of "malevolence." It is difficult to comprehend upon what she bases her
conclusion, other than the killers' own claims.
An emergency physician who has studied the autopsy reports disagrees: "The
boy was tortured," he told us.
The emergency medical services nurse disagrees: "This was murder," she told
The paramedic who tried to save the child disagrees: "I know that he had
been tortured," he told us.
The doctor who performed the autopsy disagrees: "It's a homicide," he told
"To let [the killers] out of prison is a crime in itself," the first person
on the scene told us.
But to understand this, to search for some semblance of justice for the
memory of that child, it is necessary to take it step by step. Generalizations
don't explain anything; blaming "the system" is the same as blaming no one. In
Monday's column, the story of what happened to P.J. Bourgeois -- the story
that was never told in court -- begins, with the words of the Columbus Fire
Department emergency worker who responded to a 911 call, and who found a
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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