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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2000 / 20 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

Words that the judge would not allow to be spoken -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | On a December day last year, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller convened court for the purpose of ruling whether Tracy Lynn Bratton, one of the killers of 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois, should be released from prison early.

Bratton, along with P.J.'s father, Patrick Bourgeois, had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for her role in the death of the child, who weighed 34 pounds, and who was beaten and bitten, then had his legs taped together and his wrists taped behind his back so that he could not move. The boy choked on his own blood and died.

Bourgeois and Bratton had been sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison by Judge Miller. Bratton, by the time of this day in court, had served three years and two months. She was asking Judge Miller to let her out early, under a provision of Ohio law known as supershock probation.

The State of Ohio was represented in court by Franklin County prosecutors, who, because of an agreement with defense attorneys, were not going to object to Bratton's release. Bratton was represented by her attorney.

Someone else showed up in court that day. Her name was Linda Manley; she was a registered nurse who had been on duty at Children's Hospital on the day P.J. Bourgeois' body was brought in.

"I came to court because no one was there to speak for the child," Manley, who has been a nurse for 23 years, told us. "I wanted to tell the judge that the people who killed P.J. should not be allowed out of prison early. The reason was because they murdered a child. This wasn't a case of someone hitting a child once, and not meaning it. There was no attempt to nurture or comfort him after they beat him and bit him and tied him up and left him there to die. They tortured this child.

"He was a 3-year-old boy who was not allowed to live his life. No one was in court to stand up for him. I had brought a letter to court that I wanted to read."

Judge Miller would not permit it. The reason, Judge Miller told us, was that Manley "was not a victim." The judge ruled that Manley had no right to be heard.

Here is the letter that Manley would have read in court that day, had Judge Miller allowed it:

"Dear Judge Miller --

"I am here today to adamantly oppose shock parole for Tracy Bratton. ... As an emergency nurse, I was present during [P.J.'s attempted] resuscitation on Feb. 28, 1996. In my almost 25 years of experience, nothing prepared me for what I saw that day. [P.J.'s] entire body was covered with bruises, abrasions and bite marks; in addition, ligature marks were found on his wrists and ankles, indicating he had been bound for a long period of time and struggled to breathe. [He] was tortured to death.

"[His] heinous death struck a chord with me and my colleagues. We followed his case closely through the criminal justice system and we were quickly initiated into the confusing array of sentencing laws and practices. The [killers] were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not murder, due to the difficulty of proving `intent.' [P.J.'s] death was justified as a misadventure in discipline ... `poor parenting.'

"I find this explanation ludicrous and insulting. Parents do not punch, beat, bite and tie up a 3-year-old child simply because [the child] will `not eat [his] lunch.' This is called torture. ...

"Early release of Tracy Bratton denigrates [P.J.'s] memory. ... Justice equates to Tracy Bratton serving every second of the [original prison sentence]. A small child is dead because of [Bratton's] wanton acts of cruelty. ...

"In the aftermath of [P.J.'s] murder, I have tried to take positive action to ensure other children will not meet a similar fate. Their fate is now in your hands. I trust you will make the right decision: Deny parole."

The nurse's words were not heard in the courtroom because of Judge Miller's ruling from the bench that she was not allowed to speak. Soon after so ruling, the judge ordered Tracy Lynn Bratton released early from prison.

Some of the judge's reasons for this, as stated in her written order, might strike observers familiar with the details of the crime as more than a little odd. Tomorrow we will report what the judge said.

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


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