Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2000 / 14 Tishrei 5761
The killers demand a
concession -- and they
COLUMBUS, Ohio |
Having avoided facing a murder
charge, Patrick Bourgeois and his girlfriend, Tracy
Lynn Bratton, sent word through their defense
attorneys to Franklin County prosecutors that they
would be willing to plead guilty to the lower count of
involuntary manslaughter that they faced.
They appeared to have little choice. The evidence of
their roles in the killing of Bourgeois' son, P.J., who
was 3 years old, was overwhelming. P.J. had been
beaten, bitten, tied up and left to choke on his own
blood. The child was dead, and Bourgeois and
Bratton had killed him -- but prosecutors, uncertain
that they would be able to prove the intent to kill the
boy, had decided to go with the lower involuntary
A murder conviction could have sent Bourgeois and
Bratton to prison for life. Involuntary manslaughter
would give them significantly less time. They were
willing to plead guilty, and face a sentence from
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine
Miller. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges
-- felonious assault, endangering a child, and
kidnapping (which referred to the restraint of the boy
when his legs and wrists were bound with tape).
There was one more thing that Bourgeois and
They wanted Franklin County prosecutors to agree
to take no position if, after Bourgeois and Bratton
had been in prison for a year, the killers asked Judge
Miller for supershock probation.
If you have never heard of supershock probation,
you are probably in the majority of the American
"It started in the mid-1970s as something called
shock probation," Franklin County Prosecuting Atty.
Ron O'Brien told us. "It allowed a judge to put
someone in prison, but then, if the judge chose, to
allow the person out before 90 days had passed. It
was designed to give someone a taste of prison life
-- and to let that serve as a deterrent, and to free the
person, in the hopes that the person would stay out
Sort of a scared-straight program, but real. It seldom
was used for prisoners serving long sentences for
serious crimes, O'Brien said, because such prisoners
did not belong on the streets 90 days after they were
"But then something was added -- something called
supershock probation," O'Brien said. "Supershock
probation gave a judge the discretion to let prisoners
out who had been in for more than 90 days. The
prisoners could be let out at any time -- again, on the
judge's own discretion."
No parole board hearing was necessary. Even if the
criminals had not served enough time in prison to ask
for a parole hearing, a judge had the power to grant
And Bourgeois and Bratton, in exchange for their
willingness to plead guilty, wanted that from Franklin
County prosecutors: They wanted a promise that,
after a year in prison, they could ask Judge Miller for
supershock probation, and the prosecutors would not
The prosecutors said "yes."
"They said that we should give them something in
exchange for the guilty plea," assistant prosecutor Ed
Morgan, who was assigned to the case, told us.
There is some disagreement on exactly what the
prosecution said "yes" to. O'Brien told us that
prosecution notes show that his office agreed not to
object to supershock probation for Tracy Lynn
Bratton, but that there is no notation of such an
agreement about Patrick Bourgeois. Ed Morgan told
us he can't specifically recall. Patrick Bourgeois'
defense attorney, Kirk McVay, and Judge Miller
herself told us that they are certain Bourgeois was
included in the agreement.
Morgan told us that he agreed not to object because
he believed it was a meaningless concession: "I'm
certain that I thought no judge would ever grant
[Bourgeois and Bratton] supershock probation. Our
not objecting didn't mean they were going to get out
-- the judge could keep them in prison whether we
objected or not. It's not up to us -- it's up to the
All of this legal maneuvering began almost as soon
as P.J. Bourgeois was killed. The wheels were put
in motion to carefully protect every right of his
Meanwhile, the boy faced his final, obscene indignity
even after his death. For five entire months -- as
Bourgeois and Bratton worked on their defense --
that child went unburied. He was given no funeral;
he had no visitors. His body remained stored in a bag
in a cooling compartment at the Franklin County
On Monday we will report on how this was
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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