Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2000 / 11 Tishrei 5761
The autopsy leaves no
questions: 'It was a
COLUMBUS, Ohio | At 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 29,
1996, Dr. Patrick M. Fardal, forensic pathologist
for the Franklin County Coroner's office,
approached an autopsy table in the county morgue
to do what his job requires: to try to determine the
cause of someone's death.
When he looked onto the table, he was swept by a
feeling of sadness and revulsion. He had been told
in advance that the deceased had gone to bed in his
home, and the next morning was unresponsive. But
as he looked at the person in question, he recalls
thinking: "What happened here? . . . What the hell?"
Later, he would begin writing his report, in the
coldly terrible lexicon of his profession:
"The decedent is a white male whose stated age is
3 years. Height is 38 inches; weight is 34 pounds.
Rigor mortis is present. . . . Lividity is posterior and
fixed, and the body temperature is cold."
The words referred to P.J. Bourgeois, the child
about whom we have been reporting. And it did
not take long for Dr. Fardal to realize with absolute
certainty that this little boy had not simply been put
to bed and then failed to awaken in the morning.
"It was a homicide," he told us the other day. "It
was a homicide by child abuse."
The reason we are reporting about this child is that
the people who killed him -- his father, Patrick
Bourgeois, and his father's girlfriend, Tracy Lynn
Bratton -- are walking around free this morning,
having been released from prison before they were
even eligible to appear before a parole board. They
had each pleaded guilty to involuntary
manslaughter; Franklin County Common Pleas
Court Judge Nodine Miller ordered them released
early, saying that the killing of P.J. Bourgeois "was
fraught with ignorance, immaturity and
inexperience, more than malevolence."
There was never a word of courtroom testimony in
this case, so it is difficult to conceive of a basis for
Judge Miller to come to such a conclusion. We
have been seeking out people who, had they ever
been asked to testify, would have been able to give
a realistic account of what happened to that child.
Dr. Fardal knows what happened -- in great detail.
He told us the cause of P.J.'s death can be summed
up in a few words:
"He was beaten and he was physically restrained,
and while he was restrained he swallowed his own
blood and choked to death on it."
The restraints Dr. Fardal referred to consisted of
tape that was used to bind the child's ankles
together, and to bind his wrists behind his back, so
that he could not move, or use his hands to prevent
blood from running down his throat -- blood from
the beating he had endured.
And the autopsy report indicates that it had been a
brutal beating. The area around each of his ears
contained abrasions (it would turn out that this was
the result of his killers dragging him around by his
ears); his forehead and mouth were cut, and
"abundant blood is seen to come out of the nose of
this patient." Deep human bite marks were found
on the back of his neck and on his left side
(paramedics reported seeing what they believed
were additional bite marks).
Dr. Fardal told us that when he examined the
child's scalp, he found eight bruises on the
underside of the skin. These undoubtedly were the
result of hard blows, the doctor told us. The boy's
brain was swollen, and there was bleeding on the
surface of his brain, "the result of trauma," Dr.
There was blood in the child's airways, Dr. Fardal
said, blood in his lungs, blood in his esophagus and
stomach, blood in his small bowel.
Dr. Fardal has been a forensic pathologist since
1978; there are few medical mysteries to him, and
he could tell almost immediately what had
happened to this boy. But how it could happen was
"That's what I kept asking myself," Dr. Fardal told
us. "How could this happen? There was something
going on here to cause this child to swallow his own
blood after a beating like that, and die. You see all
the injuries, and you ask yourself, where did they
come from? Who would do this?"
Finding the answers to those kinds of questions
was not his job. That job belonged to a man who,
even as the autopsy was being performed, was
asking questions in another part of town. He was
James McCoskey, a homicide detective with the
Columbus Police Department. Tomorrow, we will
report what he has told
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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