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SJC: State can remove 11-year-old from life support

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that life-support can be removed for an 11-year-old Westfield girl, who has been in a vegetative state since an alleged brutal beating last fall by her adoptive mother and stepfather.

The state's highest court rejected an appeal by her stepfather, Jason Strickland, who argued that he was a "de facto" parent of Haleigh Poutre and that the girl should remain attached to a ventilator and feeding tube. The judges said the stepfather, Jason Strickland, was asking for something "unthinkable" given the circumstances, which include the fact that he has been charged in her beating and faces potential murder charges if she dies.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, which has custody of the Haleigh and had won a lower court ruling in October to remove the girl's life-support systems, said today they are reviewing the "next step" in Haleigh's medical care. DSS says that medical tests show that she will never recover.

From the Associated Press:

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

Jason Strickland is free on bail while awaiting trial on assault charges.

"Obviously we're deeply disappointed," said his lawyer, John Egan. "They decided the case on the most narrow grounds possible."

Egan insisted his client isn't motivated by the chance he could be charged with murder if the girl dies. "We should be coming down on the side of life as opposed to death," he told the justices during last month's hearing.

"The petitioner has proffered no evidence that would allow a conclusion that his participation in (Haleigh's) life was of a loving or nurturing nature," the high court said in its ruling, "or even that it was beneficial to the child."

"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 SJC said.

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

Hampden District Attorney William Bennett, who is prosecuting Strickland for beating Haleigh, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Haleigh was adopted by her aunt about five years ago after Avrett moved to Virginia with a new boyfriend. Jason Strickland never formally adopted the girl.

 FROM THE GLOBE ARCHIVES: Accused stepfather fights to keep girl alive (By Patricia Wen, Globe Staff, 11/6/05)
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