Stepdad guilty of abuse in Mass. right-to-die case

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Date: 2008-11-26

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A man was found guilty of child abuse Wednesday for allowing the brutal beating that left his stepdaughter with a severe brain injury, putting her at the center of a right-to-die debate in Massachusetts.

Jurors convicted Jason Strickland of five of the six charges related to the 2005 beating of 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre. Prosecutors said Strickland and his late wife, Holli, participated in the abuse that put her in a coma and on life support.

The verdict came hours after jurors asked Hampden Superior Court Judge Judd Carhart if they had to believe Strickland was present when the girl suffered the brain injury.

The judge said they didn't have to believe he was present but did have to believe an "ordinary person" would know that leaving the girl with his wife could pose a serious injury risk for the girl.

Strickland, a 34-year-old auto mechanic, testified that he never hit Haleigh. He said he believed his wife's claims that Haleigh's injuries _ including burns, cuts and bruises _ were self-inflicted.

The jury did not find that Strickland inflicted the injuries that left his stepdaughter in a coma but found him guilty for permitting it to happen.

Strickland was charged with six counts of assault and battery for the injuries Haleigh suffered in September 2005 and from earlier beatings from a bat, his foot, a plastic stick and his open hand.

He was convicted of two counts of assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery.

Strickland was acquitted of one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 11.

Prosecutors claimed Strickland and his late wife abused Haleigh over a five-year period. Holli Strickland, Haleigh's aunt who adopted the child, died in an apparent murder-suicide with her grandmother after she was charged in 2005.

Haleigh's younger sister, Samantha, testified she saw Strickland push Haleigh down the stairs the day she suffered a near-fatal brain injury. But Samantha, now 12, pointed to the wrong man when asked to identify Strickland in the courtroom.

Haleigh was on life support for several months. Days after child welfare officials received court permission to remove her feeding tube, she began showing signs of improvement.

The state was sharply criticized for moving too quickly and for failing to protect Haleigh, and the case helped spark a massive overhaul of Massachusetts' child welfare system, including the creation of a new Office of the Child Advocate.

Haleigh, now 14, lives in a Boston rehabilitation hospital where she is able to perform simple tasks such as feeding herself and writing her name.


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