Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2000 / 24 Tishrei 5761
Blaming the boy for
bringing on his own
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
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
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
"A difficult child"? A boy whom his killers "could
not control"? So they tortured him, because he was
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
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
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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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