Adoptive parents accused of child beating

Relates to:
Date: 2005-09-22
By GEORGE GRAHAM

ggraham@repub.com

WESTFIELD - An 11-year-old girl was lying "virtually brain dead" and in critical condition last night at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and her adoptive parents were behind bars facing charges in a horrific child abuse case.

Over a period of time, the girl had been beaten with a baseball bat, thrown down stairs and made to stand in hot water, according to documents on file in Westfield District Court.

Police have charged the girl's adoptive mother and stepfather, Holli A. Strickland, 33, and Jason D. Strickland, 31, of 36 Bowdoin St., with several counts of assault and assault and battery in the case. The Stricklands were arrested Tuesday.

Innocent pleas were entered in Westfield District Court yesterday on the couple's behalf, and they were held on $25,000 cash or $100,000 surety bail.

Although police, citing the ongoing investigation, have commented little on the case, court documents paint a horrific pattern of abuse inflicted on the girl, primarily by Holli Strickland.

Tests done at Noble Hospital and later, Baystate, revealed the girl had a subdural hematoma, a sheared brain stem, and there is little hope for her recovery, according to court documents. The documents stated the girl was "virtually brain dead."

The Stricklands were charged with assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery, court documents state.

An innocent plea on Holli Strickland's behalf was also entered on an additional charge of assault and battery on a child with injury, court documents state.

Police became involved in the case Sept. 11 when family members, including the two charged, brought the girl to Noble Hospital, stating she was suffering from a stomach flu, documents state.

"She was unresponsive," Lt. Michael A. McCabe, head of the detective bureau said yesterday, adding that examination revealed the girl had suffered a major trauma to the head along with other injuries which he declined to describe.

Court documents state those injuries included new and old bruises, new and old cuts and "several apparent weeping burns," which are burns that leak fluid. The documents do not provide a time frame for when some of the injuries occurred.

A physician at Baystate described the girl's brain stem injury as an "acceleration, deceleration injury similar to that of a shaken baby," court documents state.

Both Stricklands, when questioned by police, said they had no knowledge of their daughter's injuries or how they might have occurred, according to court documents.

McCabe said city and state police mounted a major investigation into the Stricklands.

"We had folks pretty much working around the clock from the day it occurred until the day of the arrest," McCabe said.

A witness reported seeing Holli Strickland kick the girl on an already existing bruise and say she did so because there would be no evidence, court documents state.

Another witness reported seeing Holli Strickland hit the girl numerous times on old bruises with a baseball bat and another time with a metal spoon when "she thought she was not telling the truth about things," court documents state.

A witness also reported the girl once told her that Holli Strickland made her stand in hot water, which resulted in the girl being hospitalized for a week on account of first- and second-degree burns, court documents state.

Court documents state that medical personnel treating the burns at the time believed the girl had inflicted the burns upon herself. She later recovered.

Jason Strickland was present when some of the abuse occurred, and a witness reported once seeing him strike the girl with an open hand and a plastic wand, court documents said.

"It is clear there was an ongoing pattern of abuse and Jason, as caretaker for the child, not only did nothing to stop the abuse but he participated in it," court documents state.

McCabe said police arrested the couple at the Red Roof Inn on Riverdale Street in West Springfield, where they had been staying since they brought their daughter to the hospital.

Court documents state the Stricklands were planning to check out yesterday and that police believed the two were at risk of fleeing the area.

The Department of Social Services has served a petition seeking to take custody of other children in the Strickland household, documents state. It was not known where the remaining children were last night.

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