Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2000 / 18 Tishrei 5761
The killers get 7 to
years ... with a wink
COLUMBUS, Ohio | Even before Patrick
Bourgeois and his girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton,
were sent off to prison for killing Bourgeois'
3-year-old son, P.J., the mechanisms had been put
in place to let them out early.
Everyone involved in the case knew it.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge
Nodine Miller -- who would let the killers out --
The Franklin County prosecutors entrusted to seek
justice for the boy knew it.
The defense attorneys knew it -- they had asked
for it to happen.
The killers definitely knew it.
There turned out to be no one in court to speak for
the child -- no one to say that it was obscene to
even consider a plan that would potentially reward
Bourgeois and Bratton, who had beaten and bitten
that 34-pound boy, had bound his legs and taped
his wrists behind his back, and had left him to
choke on his own blood and die.
The plan had already been agreed to on the day --
Oct. 7, 1996 -- that Bourgeois and Bratton
appeared before Judge Miller for sentencing.
There had been no trial -- no witnesses, no
testimony. The voices you have heard in these
reports -- the voices of the medical rescue workers
who tried to save the child, of the homicide
detective on the scene, of the doctor who
performed the autopsy -- were never heard in
As we have reported, Bourgeois and Bratton had
each been allowed to plead guilty to a charge of
involuntary manslaughter. Additional charges --
felonious assault, endangering a child, kidnapping
(referring to the binding of the boy) -- had been
Bourgeois and Bratton would almost certainly have
fought a murder charge, and the potential life
sentence it carried. A murder charge would have
brought sworn testimony, and a jury trial.
Franklin County Prosecuting Atty. Ron O'Brien --
who was not in office at the time of the crime or the
time of sentencing -- told us that prosecutors
decided on the lesser involuntary manslaughter
charge for a practical reason:
"From what I know about it, [prosecutors] have
always had difficulty in cases where children are
killed, because we have had to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt not only that the accused people
caused the death of the child, but that they
purposely caused the death."
Intent was a part of the law, and the one person
who could tell a jury whether he thought Bourgeois
and Bratton had been trying to kill him -- P.J.
Bourgeois -- was dead.
Judge Miller told us that she believed the
prosecution's decision to charge Bourgeois and
Bratton with involuntary manslaughter was
probably the correct one: "There was going to be
an evidentiary problem. [Bourgeois and Bratton]
were the only people who knew what happened.
[The prosecution might have had trouble] proving
who was more culpable."
She accepted their pleas -- and sentenced them
each to 7 to 25 years in prison.
But -- as we reported last week -- a very
important concession had already been granted to
the killers by Franklin County prosecutors.
The prosecutors agreed not to oppose something
called "supershock probation" after Bourgeois and
Bratton had been in prison for a year. Supershock
probation meant that the judge, on her own, could
let the killers out of prison any time she wanted,
after the year had passed.
Ed Morgan, the assistant prosecutor in charge of
the case, now says that he never thought Judge
Miller would actually grant Bourgeois or Bratton
supershock probation; he told us that he agreed not
to oppose it because the defense attorneys "were
saying, `Give us something.'"
Kirk McVay, Bourgeois' defense attorney, told us
that Morgan's position -- that the concession to the
killers was meaningless -- is nonsensical: "Of
course we were going to pursue [supershock
probation]," McVay said, "and of course we hoped
to get it."
When we asked Judge Miller if she thought the
agreement was meaningless, she said she took it at
face value: "So long as the legislature thinks that
shock probation [in some cases] is appropriate, I
have a responsibility to consider it for those who
Were the circumstances of this case not especially
terrible -- the apparent torture of a 3-year-old
child, who is bitten and bound, and left to choke to
death on his own blood?
"A life was lost," Judge Miller told us. "All killings
Even though Bourgeois and Bratton went off to
prison knowing that, in a year, they would be able
to apply to Judge Miller for supershock probation,
there was a built-in safeguard in the law that might
have worked to protect the memory of P.J.
Bourgeois, to provide him with the chance for a
semblance of justice.
But it was a safeguard, we have learned, that was
routinely winked at -- all but laughed at -- in the
courts of Franklin County. The judge admitted it to
us, the prosecutors admitted it to us, Bourgeois'
attorney admitted it to us. The law might say one
thing -- but, as we will report tomorrow, the officers
of the court had devised a way to get around
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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