Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2000 / 21 Tishrei 5761
The child's killer is
released -- to care for
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
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
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
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
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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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