Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2000 / 13 Tishrei 5761
The prosecutors decide it doesn't qualify as murder
COLUMBUS, Ohio | It appeared to be, if not an open-and-shut case, at least one in which
prosecutors would have absolutely no trouble proving how the victim was
killed, and who the killers were.
As we have been reporting, P.J. Bourgeois, 3, had been found dead in the
mobile home on the south side of Columbus where he had lived with his father,
Patrick Bourgeois, and the father's girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton. The
Franklin County Coroner's office had determined that the child had been
beaten, had been bitten, then had been tied up and, unable to move, had
swallowed his own blood and had choked to death -- had drowned on the blood.
The boy's father had admitted striking and biting him; the girlfriend had
admitted biting the boy and helping tape his ankles together and his wrists
behind his back.
So how could this have gone so wrong in court? How could, before they even
became eligible for a parole board hearing, Bourgeois and Bratton be free and
out on the streets, as they are this morning?
Two key decisions -- made by the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney's
office -- made possible what would happen later: the freeing of Bourgeois and
Bratton by Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller who, saying
what Bourgeois and Bratton did in killing the boy was "fraught with ignorance,
immaturity and inexperience, more than malevolence," ordered them released
The first decision came when prosecutors had to determine what crimes with
which to charge the suspects. Bourgeois and Bratton could have been charged
with aggravated murder, the most serious charge; they could have been charged
with murder, next most serious; with voluntary manslaughter, one more step
down; or with involuntary manslaughter, the least serious of the four.
They were each charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Franklin County Prosecuting Atty. Ron O'Brien, who was not in office at the
time of the crime, said the decision was made because of language in Ohio law
that said "intent" had to be proven in cases of murder. There were only three
witnesses to the killing of P.J. Bourgeois, and one was dead. To prove
Bourgeois and Bratton intended to kill the child, O'Brien said, they would
have to testify against each other. And there was no indication they would do
So involuntary manslaughter it was. Ed Morgan, head of the criminal
division in the prosecutor's office, was confident he could make involuntary
manslaughter stick in court. And there were additional charges: felonious
assault, endangering a child, kidnapping (because of the restraint of P.J.).
Kirk McVay, Patrick Bourgeois' defense attorney, told us, "You could have been
talking about a century or more in prison, had they been convicted of
everything they were charged with," although he conceded that such a lengthy
sentence would have been highly unlikely.
The prosecutors were confident that, even with the relatively low
involuntary manslaughter charge they decided upon, they could put Bourgeois
and Bratton in prison for a significant number of years -- long enough to be
appropriate for what the two had done to that 3-year-old boy. "Proving that
they intended to kill [P.J.] might have been very difficult," O'Brien told us.
"They did what they did. We know that. But was it their intention for him to
Now, in light of what has happened, O'Brien said he has asked himself
whether he wishes prosecutors had taken their chances with a murder charge in
front of a jury.
"I don't know," he told us. "I have thought about it quite a bit, and the
answer is, I don't know."
The second key decision by prosecutors would come during negotiations with
defense attorneys. The defense attorneys -- saying Bourgeois and Bratton were
willing to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter -- asked one thing from
They asked the prosecutors to agree not to take a position on something
called "supershock probation" after Bourgeois and Bratton had been in prison
for one year.
"[The defense attorneys] said, `Give us something,'" assistant prosecutor
Morgan told us.
"I'm certain that I thought no judge would ever grant those two supershock
probation, so at the time it didn't seem to mean a lot, agreeing not to
It meant more than a lot. We will explain in tomorrow's
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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