- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court ruled yesterday that the state can withdraw life support from an 11-year-old girl who reportedly was beaten by her adoptive mother and stepfather.

Haleigh Poutre, of Westfield, was hospitalized in September after she reportedly was 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 charged in her beating and faces a murder charge if she dies.

The adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, who was Haleigh’s aunt, also was charged in the beating and was found dead alongside her grandmother in a suspected 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 Mr. Strickland to appeal to the state’s high court. Doctors had said Haleigh would die within a few days without the feeding tube.

In its ruling, the court said Mr. Strickland had offered no evidence “that his participation in [Haleighs] life was of a loving or nurturing nature.”

Haleigh’s biological mother, Allison Avrett, said yesterday: “I’m in complete shock at this point. My mind is running with things.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services issued no comment.

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

His attorney, John Egan, insisted that his client isn’t motivated by the chance that he could be charged with murder if the girl dies.

“We should be coming down on the side of life as opposed to death,” Mr. Egan told the justices during last month’s hearing.

The court said in its ruling that it was impossible to consider Mr. Strickland’s intentions without also taking into account the criminal charges he faces if she dies.

“To recognize the petitioner as a de facto parent, in order that he may participate in a medical end-of-life decision for the child, is unthinkable in the circumstances of this case,” the court said.

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