Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2000 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
'He will never know what it is like
to ride a bicycle'
COLUMBUS, Ohio | For all those who have
asked the question "What can we do?" in
response to the reports here about the killing of
3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois:
In the next few days, as we conclude this series
of reports, we will offer suggestions about how
citizens who are saddened and disgusted by what was done to that child --
and by the early release from prison of his killers -- can try to make changes
so that children in the future may be spared the indignities he faced not only
during his short life, but, because of the Franklin County courts, after his
Today, though, a specific example of how P.J.'s death has already served to
prevent judges from treating people who torture and kill children as leniently
as Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Nodine Miller treated
Patrick Bourgeois and his girlfriend, Tracy Lynn Bratton.
As we have been reporting, Bourgeois and Bratton were charged by Franklin
County prosecutors with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder. Judge
Miller sentenced them to 7 to 25 years in prison (they would have faced
possible life sentences had they been charged with and convicted of murder).
Then Judge Miller -- with the assistance of the prosecutors, who did nothing
to oppose the killers' release -- freed them from prison before they even
would have been eligible to appear before a parole board. Bratton served
only 3 years and 2 months of her sentence; Bourgeois served 3 years and 10
months of his.
Ohio State Rep. Amy Salerno decided that enough was enough. If
prosecutors were going to be so timid and lazy, if judges were going to be so
forgiving of people who kill children, then Salerno wanted to change the law.
"Prosecutors were always saying they could not get juries to convict people
like this, who kill children, because the killers could get away with saying they
didn't mean to kill the child -- it was just `discipline,'" Salerno said.
"Prosecutors said it was difficult to prove intent.
"My feeling as I spoke with pediatric nurses and emergency room doctors
was that we just can't take this attitude anymore. How could we continue to
allow people who torture and kill children to get away with light sentences by
saying they really didn't mean it?
"Part of this had to do with the public not being able to envision anyone doing
such a thing to a child -- not being able to imagine that adults can possibly do
something this bad.
"I wish that every law student, every medical student, every student studying
to be a schoolteacher, would be required to spend one night in the emergency
room of a children's hospital. That's all that it would take for them to
understand the problem.
"If you don't see it for yourself, you can't imagine how severe the problem is.
Once you've seen a 6-month-old child with his eyes blackened, you realize
that it didn't just happen accidentally."
Salerno sponsored a new Ohio law -- homicide by child abuse. It carries the
same penalty as murder -- 15 years to life in prison. "If a child dies as a result
of your abuse, you can be charged with homicide by child abuse," she said.
"My idea was to remove the issue of intent [to kill]."
She got the bill through the Ohio House; she got it through the Ohio Senate.
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft signed it into law. It's in effect right now.
She feels revulsion that Bourgeois and Bratton are out on the streets, and
feels certain that if they had killed P.J. today, and had been charged under the
new law, they would still be in prison.
"I can't get P.J.'s face out of my mind," she said. "There is absolutely no
defense for what they did to him. I can't bring back a dead child. But I can do
everything in my power to make certain there is justice done to the person
who killed a child."
She is unmoved by arguments that people who torture and kill children should
be allowed to serve light sentences and move on with their lives.
"Patrick Bourgeois and Tracy Bratton are out of prison now," Salerno said.
"They killed that boy. He will never know what it is like to ride a bicycle, to
play a basketball game, to start school, to graduate, to get married. . . . All of
that was taken away from him by the people who decided to torture him.
"I don't want to hear about their desire to go on with their lives. He didn't get
to go on with his. They belong in prison."
Tomorrow: Some specific ways for citizens to make their voices heard,
ways that can make a tangible difference for children whose own voices are
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services