By Ed Brock
In a courtroom filled with tears, Jane Bracob delivered a message from her granddaughter.
It was a message to Angela Michelle Doster who on Monday pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the March 2002 killing of Bracob's grandson, 4-year-old Joseph "Joey" Bracob. Doster, after admitting that she literally stomped the life out of the boy, was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison.
"She wanted me to tell Angela that she knows she killed Joey," Jane Bracob said. "She said she doesn't understand why, why Joey had to die."
Doster shed some tears of her own, her voice cracking as she spoke the word "guilty." She then apologized to the family.
"If I could change any of it I would," Doster said.
On March 28, 2002 Doster, who was married to Joey's father at the time and therefore went by the last name Bracob, lived at a house on Brian Lane near Forest Park with Joey and his sister and Doster's own children, two young girls.
Officers responded to a call that Joey had stopped breathing and had been taken to Southern Regional Medical Center where he was declared dead. One officer described Joey's body as being covered with bruises and scratches, including a bruise on his stomach "with a tread pattern consistent of a shoe tread pattern."
At first Doster told police that Joey had fallen down some stairs with her and after that she had accidentally stepped on him. An investigation by medical examiners with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed that the injuries the boy had suffered were not consistent with Doster's story.
Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott said Doster's attorney John Beall had approached them with a plea on Friday. But after discussing it with the Bracob family, they rejected it because Doster would not take responsibility for killing Joey. By Monday that had changed and Beall offered a plea to voluntary manslaughter.
"I think that's what (the family) was waiting for," Scott said.
Scott also said that the family agreed to the plea so they could have closure and avoid the pain of reliving the crime through a trial.
Before Superior Court Judge Al Collier passed sentence Assistant District Attorney Richard Brown offered some mitigating words on Doster's behalf.
"The defendant found herself in a situation where she lost control and committed this horrible act with which she'll have to live for the rest of her life," Brown said.
Dr. Lori Darrisaw and Beoncia Loveless with the GBI's Child Abuse Investigative Support Center said they want to bring something positive out of the case. During their investigation of the case, it became evident that Joey's abuse should have been noticed long before his death. Medical examinations of the boy had shown that he had suffered, among other injuries, a fractured pelvis and a fractured arm.
Loveless said people in the medical field, along with teachers, day care workers and others, are considered "mandatory reporters" of child abuse. She wants to assemble a kit from the evidence in the Joey Bracob case to educate people in the child care business about the consequences of failing to report such cases.
"People don't want to get involved, they don't want to sign the paper. Or they just don't recognize it as being an abusive injury," Loveless said. "I think the problem is making them more suspicious."
Joey's grandfather Robert Bracob, Sr. said that the brightest point of the years since his grandson's death is learning about what Loveless and Darrisaw want to do.
"We now know that Joey's death was not in vain," Robert Bracob said, forcing his words out through his own tears. "I guess Joey's death had a purpose and I don't guess I understood that until today."