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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2000 / 17 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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While the killers maneuver, the boy goes unburied -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | They had killed 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois -- they had beaten him, bitten him, bound his wrists and legs tightly with tape, and had left him to choke on his own blood.

Now they were arrested -- P.J.'s father, Patrick Bourgeois, and Bourgeois' girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton, were in jail in Franklin County and awaiting trial. They were working with their defense attorneys on the plans that would eventually get them out of prison early and put them back on the streets, free and clear.

All of their rights were carefully being looked out for -- by their lawyers, and by the courts.

Meanwhile, someone's rights were being forgotten -- in a way that, even in the context of this awful case, is obscene almost beyond imagining.

P.J. Bourgeois -- after the autopsy of his battered and bruised 34-pound body -- was not allowed to be buried.

Why not?

Because his killer -- Patrick Bourgeois -- from behind bars in the Franklin County Jail became engaged in a legal dispute with P.J.'s mother, who lived in Lewistown, Pa., and from whom Bourgeois was estranged. The mother -- Michelle DuMond -- had been involved in a tumultuous relationship in Pennsylvania with Bourgeois, and Bourgeois had ended up with the boy. He had moved from Lewistown to Columbus with Tracy Bratton, and he had kept the boy with him.

Now that the boy was dead, Michelle DuMond wanted him transported back to Pennsylvania for burial. Bourgeois, from jail, objected to this; he may have killed P.J., but he wanted to be the one to decide where the boy should be buried. He wanted the burial to be in Columbus -- near him.

The Franklin County courts were asked to decide.

And so for five months the body of that little boy remained in the Franklin County morgue. No one came to visit; no one came to mourn or to pray. Even in death, his interests went unprotected while the adults in his life looked out for their own interests, and argued with each other.

"This kind of thing just never happens," said Dr. Patrick M. Fardal, the forensic pathologist in the Franklin County coroner's office who had been assigned to perform the autopsy. "Occasionally we have someone who goes unidentified, and we have to keep the body in the morgue because we don't know who the person is. But for a known person? And we know who the parents are? To keep him in the morgue without a burial, for five months? That never happens."

But it did with P.J. "We were ordered not to release him, so we didn't," Dr. Fardal said. "He stayed in a body bag in a cooling compartment here at the morgue, and after some time had passed, and they still couldn't work this out, we had to move him to the freezer. Certain things happen to a body as time passes.

"I just didn't understand it. He was being treated like a couch or something -- like a piece of furniture that people are fighting over in a divorce. What's the purpose? Why would they do this to him?"

The case was assigned to Franklin County Probate Court Judge Lawrence A. Belskis. "You would not expect parents to ask a court to decide such a thing," Judge Belskis told us. "I encouraged them to work this out, but they didn't."

Time was passing. Judge Belskis had dealt before with issues of disinterment -- of digging up a body that had already been buried -- but he had never been asked to decide on the issue of interment -- of burial.

"I think that at all costs you would want to avoid something like this," he said. "Why would any parent want this? Why would a parent not want his or her child to be afforded a little dignity -- why would a parent rob the child of even this?"

But, as in life, P.J. Bourgeois was not permitted to have that dignity. In due course, Judge Belskis ruled: P.J. would have a memorial service in Ohio (a service his killer, Patrick Bourgeois, would be allowed out of jail to attend), and then would be transported to Pennsylvania for burial.

So five months after the child had arrived at the Franklin County morgue, he was at last allowed to leave. A man named Tim Moriarty, an employee of a funeral home, drove up to the morgue and signed a receipt for P.J., and he was removed from the freezer and taken away.

Meanwhile, his killers were moving closer to what was supposed to be their trial date. Tomorrow, we will report what happened.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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