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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2000 / 21 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The child's killer is released -- to care for other children -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | When Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller released Tracy Lynn Bratton from prison early, the judge issued a written order listing some of her reasons.

Bratton, as we have been reporting, was in prison for her role in the killing of 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois, the son of her boyfriend, Patrick Bourgeois. Judge Miller was freeing Bratton after only three years and two months of a 7-to-25-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter; Bratton was not yet eligible to appear before a parole board, but the judge was granting her something called "supershock probation," which the judge could order on her own.

Why was Judge Miller allowing Bratton to go free early?

One reason was the judge's belief that the "dramatic event" -- that is how Judge Miller characterized the beating, biting and binding of P.J. Bourgeois, after which the child was left to choke to death on his own blood -- "was fraught with ignorance, immaturity and inexperience, more than malevolence." Thus, the torture and killing of the child was regarded in Judge Miller's court as not being a malevolent act -- nor, evidently, was the refusal of Bratton and Bourgeois to allow rescue workers into their home to try to save the boy (the killers were trying to clean up P.J.'s blood from their kitchen, and to hide the tape they had used to bind his legs and wrists, before the rescue workers were permitted inside).

Judge Miller, in her written ruling, also said: "Bratton is unlikely to commit another offense. The public does not need to be protected from Bratton."

How could the judge be so certain -- in the absence of any sworn witnesses or testimony in this case, why did the judge believe Bratton would not do such a thing again?

Here is how the judge explained it in her order: "These particular circumstances were so aberrant, it is hard to conceive of such a replay in Bratton's lifetime."

So the judge ruled that -- because what Bratton did to that child was so violently terrible -- that in itself was a good reason to let Bratton out of prison early: The judge wrote that she could not imagine a person doing such a thing twice.

Perhaps the most striking part of Judge Miller's order releasing Bratton was this:

The judge wrote that Bratton, who was in prison for her role in killing a child, should be released so that she could care for other children.

Judge Miller wrote that Bratton had two children of her own -- a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. They were being raised by relatives in Lewistown, Pa.

There had been illness in the family; Bratton had said she wanted to leave prison so she could take care of the children.

Judge Miller, in her written order, concedes that she does not know whether other relatives are available to care for the children: "Whether other family members are willing and/or able to care for [the two children] was not addressed in Bratton's motion for judicial release."

But the judge goes ahead and lets Bratton out of prison, so that the killer of a 3-year-old child can go immediately to another state and take over the care of two children. Some might argue that the children were being protected by Bratton's incarceration for the killing of P.J., but the judge thinks otherwise; for the children, the judge writes, "it is not unreasonable to presume that this situation would be substantially improved if Bratton were to return to Lewistown, Pa."

Why is Judge Miller so certain that this is a good idea -- to let the killer of a child out of prison early to care for other children? Bratton, the judge writes, has completed "courses in self-esteem, and in anger and stress management."

And of course there is the judge's contention that anyone who would do something as deadly and sadistic as tying up a 3-year-old child while he bleeds to death could not conceivably do such a thing again: "These particular circumstances were so aberrant, it is hard to conceive of such a replay in Bratton's lifetime."

But perhaps the most repugnant part of Judge Miller's order that Bratton be released early from prison was the judge's clear implication that P.J. Bourgeois was somehow partially responsible for bringing on his own killing.

This insult by the judge to the memory of that little boy -- who could not defend his own name in court -- deserves discussion on its own. On Monday we will report on that part of the judge's order.

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


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