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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2000 / 24 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Blaming the boy for bringing on his own killing -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | You would think that nothing could be more insulting to the memory of 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois than the early release from prison of the people who tortured and killed him.

But one aspect of Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller's order releasing his killers -- the child's father, Patrick Bourgeois, and the father's girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton -- is perhaps even more inexcusable than the release from prison itself.

It is Judge Miller's clear implication that the child did something to bring on his killing -- that, in some way, the child's behavior provided a motive for Bourgeois and Bratton to beat the 34-pound child, bite deeply into his flesh, drag him around by his ears, tie his legs together and his wrists behind his back, and leave him alone and uncared for to choke to death on his own blood.

In her order freeing Tracy Lynn Bratton from prison before Bratton would even have been eligible to appear before a parole board, Judge Miller refers to the boy this way:

"[P.J.], a difficult child which Bratton could not control. ..."

The judge continues: P.J. "began misbehaving on Feb. 27, 1996. ..."

Those may seem like small and innocuous statements for the judge to make.

But she never knew that child; she had only the killers' own descriptions of the boy on which to base her ruling. There was no testimony in any courtroom, no trial, no witnesses. That boy could not appear in front of Judge Miller to defend his name.

"A difficult child"? A boy whom his killers "could not control"? So they tortured him, because he was so difficult?

Put aside for a moment the obvious fact that no behavior by a 3-year-old warrants his being bitten and beaten and taped up until he dies. The very statements made by the judge that the child was "difficult," impossible to "control," are not supported by anyone involved in this case other than the killers themselves. Relatives of the child in Lewistown, Pa., have described him as being a quiet, well-behaved boy; Judge Miller, who never met the child, decided otherwise as she freed one of his killers.

The defense attorneys for Patrick Bourgeois and Tracy Lynn Bratton, the prosecutors, the judge herself -- all have come to accept the killers' descriptions of the child's behavior as basic facts in this case. It is as if they have concluded: "This was a very difficult boy, and his misbehavior led to his being punished."

And what kind of "misbehavior" did his killers say the child was guilty of?

For one thing, Bourgeois and Bratton said that the boy would get up during the night and drink from the toilet bowl. Because of this, the killers said, he had to be tied up at night so he could not get out of bed.

But evidently no one asked the killers the question: If, in fact, the child was drinking out of the toilet bowl, why was he doing it? Might he not have been thirsty -- had they provided him with any water to drink at night? If he was so thirsty that he had to drink from a toilet in the middle of the night, might that not indicate that he felt desperately in need of water, and of someone to give it to him?

The killers also -- after they had been arrested and were confronted with the evidence of the physical condition of P.J.'s body -- said that the boy had liked to beat his head against the floor, and he had to be tied up to stop him from doing that.

It's a convenient accusation for people to make against a boy who has bruises on the inside of his scalp. He must have done it to himself, the killers said -- and their contention became a part of the court's assumptions about the child's "misbehavior."

But we spoke with Dr. Patrick M. Fardal, the forensic pathologist in the Franklin County coroner's office who conducted the autopsy on P.J., and asked him specifically about the eight bruises on the inside of the child's scalp. Could they have been the result of the boy beating his head against the floor?

"No, no, no," Dr. Fardal told us. "Those injuries were not consistent with a child banging his head on the floor. They would have looked completely different had he done that.

"The boy didn't do it to himself. Someone did it to him -- someone beat him. The injuries are consistent with the boy being beaten -- most likely with a human hand."

But Dr. Fardal was never given the opportunity to testify in court. And as Tracy Lynn Bratton was released from prison, the boy -- who could not object to what the judge was saying about him -- was characterized as a difficult child whose refusal to behave initiated the events that led to his killing.

Tomorrow we will report on what Tracy Lynn Bratton -- and Judge Miller -- have told us.

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


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