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Court Says Girl's Life Support Can End

January 18, 2006|From Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The state's highest court ruled Tuesday that the state can withdraw life support from an 11-year-old girl who was badly beaten, allegedly by her adoptive mother and stepfather.

Haleigh Poutre of Westfield was hospitalized in September after she was allegedly kicked and beaten nearly to death with a baseball bat.

The girl's stepfather, Jason Strickland, asked the Supreme Judicial Court last month to block the state from taking her off life support, arguing that he was the girl's "de facto" parent. He is already charged in her beating and if she dies, could face a murder charge.

The adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, who was also Haleigh's aunt, was charged in the beating. She was found dead in a possible murder-suicide less than two weeks later.

The state Department of Social Services has custody of the girl and wants to remove her from life support, citing opinions from her doctors that the girl is in a permanent vegetative state.

A juvenile court judge granted the state's request to disconnect Haleigh's feeding tube and ventilator, prompting Jason Strickland to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court. Doctors had said Haleigh would die within a few days without the feeding tube.

But in its ruling, the court said he had offered no evidence "that his participation in [Haleigh's] life was of a loving or nurturing nature."

Haleigh's biological mother Allison Avrett, said Tuesday: "I'm in complete shock at this point. My mind is running with things."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services had no immediate comment.

Haleigh was adopted by her aunt about five years ago after Avrett moved to Virginia with a new boyfriend.

Jason Strickland, who never formally adopted the girl, argued that as the stepfather, he should be considered a de facto parent and allowed to have a say in whether she lives or dies.

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