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Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2000 / 25 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

The boy's killer: 'I've served my time, and I'm out' -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | Neither Tracy Lynn Bratton, one of the killers of 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois, nor Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller, who ordered Bratton released from prison early, wants to talk about the details of the case.

The reluctance of both women is understandable. Judge Miller prefers to allow her written decisions about Bratton and the other killer -- Patrick Bourgeois, P.J.'s father, whom Judge Miller also ordered released from prison early -- to speak for themselves. Many judges, with good reason, take this position on discussing cases over which they have presided.

Tracy Bratton -- who is back in Lewistown, Pa., after being released by Judge Miller -- told us: "I really don't have anything to say. I've served my time, and I'm out."

Indeed she is. The time she served -- three years and two months -- is far short of the 7-to-25-year sentence she received for pleading guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, and even further short of the life in prison she could have received had she been charged with and convicted of the murder of the boy she helped to kill. But Franklin County prosecutors allowed her to plead to the involuntary manslaughter count, and did not object when Judge Miller granted her "supershock probation."

Because one of the reasons Judge Miller gave for releasing Bratton from prison early was so Bratton could go to Pennsylvania to care for two children of her own, we wanted to speak with Bratton about the details of the crime. P.J. Bourgeois had been beaten, bitten, dragged by his ears, tied up and left to choke to death on his own blood. In light of Bratton's desire to leave prison and take care of other children -- a desire fulfilled by Judge Miller's order -- we sought to speak with her about what she did to P.J.

"My judge knows what happened," Bratton told us, in saying she did not want to discuss it further. "Judge Miller knows."

As for Judge Miller, she told us that she could not discuss the facts of the case itself, but that "I have the reputation for being a fair and responsible judge. For a person in a courtroom, that is the person's only time in front of a judge. I try to be reasonable and fair with everyone who comes in front of me."

In this case, the problem would not seem to be whether the judge was "reasonable and fair" with the people in front of her -- certainly those people, Bourgeois and Bratton, have reason to be overjoyed by the sympathy and understanding they received from Judge Miller.

The problem was Judge Miller's attitude toward the person who was not in front of her -- the person she could not see, the person who could not ask her for mercy the way the killers could ask her: P.J. Bourgeois, whose cries for mercy went unanswered by Bourgeois and Bratton.

One of the factors Judge Miller cited in releasing Bratton and Bourgeois early was their willingness to accept responsibility for what they had done. But in fact, in public comments after they were released from prison, the killers pointed fingers at each other, each saying that the other was the aggressor in the killing of that 3-year-old, 34-pound child.

"I'll tell you this," Tracy Bratton said, in the only specific comment she made to us about the killing. "I'm not the one who hit [P.J] on the top of his head."

When asked about her role in binding the child's legs together, and tying his wrists tightly behind his back on the night he was left alone to choke to death while bleeding from his beating, Bratton told us:

"I don't want to say any more. I want to move on with my life. I want to move forward."

An understandable desire -- but if ever we are going to be able to stop these kinds of crimes against the most helpless and voiceless victims, we must spend the time to try to understand what was really done to the people who can't move on with their lives, the people who can't move forward: the children who, like P.J., are not given the opportunity to stand before a judge and ask that their punishment be stopped.

Tomorrow, a jarring development in this case: how, after the release of Tracy Bratton, the prosecutors never even filed a response to Patrick Bourgeois' motion asking Judge Miller to free him from prison early. Bourgeois' request went uncontested because the prosecutors lost it and now say they didn't know it was there.

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


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