Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2000 / 20 Tishrei 5761
Words that the judge
would not allow to be
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
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
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
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
"[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 ...
"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
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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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