Date: 9/30/2008 6:31 PM
By DENISE LAVOIE
Associated Press Writer
BOSTON (AP) _ A girl who survived an infamous Massachusetts end-of-life case will not be called to testify against the man accused of beating her into a coma and injuring her brain, according to a notice filed Tuesday.
Prosecutors said they decided against calling Haleigh Poutre, 14, as a witness after meeting with her several times, speaking to her doctors, and reviewing her medical and psychological records.
The extent of Haleigh’s recovery is unknown and state officials will not discuss her condition, citing privacy laws.
The notice was filed one day before a scheduled hearing in Hampden Superior Court to determine if Haleigh was mentally competent to be a witness.
“The Commonwealth has concluded that it would not be in the best interests of the child to testify in a public forum and has decided to forego the information she would have supplied rather than further traumatize the child,” Assistant District Attorney Laurel Brandt said in the court filing.
Authorities say Haleigh was severely beaten in 2005 by Jason Strickland and his wife Holli, who was Haleigh’s sister. The Stricklands adopted Haleigh when she was 7. Her birth mother is suing the state, saying she felt pressured by DSS to have the girl adopted.
The state took custody after Haleigh was hospitalized with a damaged brain stem that doctors said left her comatose. She became the center of a heartrending legal case when the Department of Social Services sought to remove her feeding tube, saying she had no hope of recovery.
That decision, and the subsequent criticism that the state moved too quickly after Haleigh improved enough to survive without a ventilator, prompted an exhaustive examination of how the state handles right-to-die questions for children in its care.
The case was key to sparking a massive overhaul of the state’s child welfare system, including the creation of a new Office of the Child Advocate.
If she had been found competent to testify, Haleigh would likely have had to face Strickland in court.
The Department of Children and Families and a court-appointed guardian for Haleigh both argued in court filings that she should not have to go through that anguish.
Strickland is scheduled to go to trial on assault charges Oct. 29. He has pleaded not guilty.
Holli Strickland died in an apparent murder-suicide with her grandmother two weeks after pleading innocent to assault charges in September 2005.
Strickland’s lawyer, Alan Black, did not immediately return messages left at his office.
Hampden District Attorney William Bennett did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.