Thursday, December 18, 2008
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. —A man was sentenced Thursday to 12 to 15 years in prison for allowing a brutal beating that left his stepdaughter with a severe brain injury and put her at the center of a right-to-die case in Massachusetts.
Jurors convicted Jason Strickland in November of five of the six charges related to the 2005 beating of 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre. The jury didn't believe Strickland was present for the beating, but said he would have known that leaving the girl with his late wife, Holli, could pose a serious risk.
Prosecutors had claimed the Stricklands 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.
"I think it's mixed feelings on both parts, from that there's some sort of justice, but Haleigh still suffers," said Allison Avrett, Haleigh's biological mother and Holli Strickland's sister.
The abuse left Haleigh in a coma. After months on life support, child welfare officials got permission to remove her feeding tube. But soon after, the girl began to show improvement. Now 14, Haleigh lives in a Boston rehabilitation facility.
The state was sharply criticized for moving too quickly and for failing to protect Haleigh. The case helped spark a massive overhaul of Massachusetts' child welfare system.
Strickland 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. He was acquitted of one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
He said nothing and stood stoically while being sentenced.
Strickland's lawyer, Alan J. Black, asked Judge Judd J. Carhart to allow any time to be served in county jail. During the trial, Black portrayed the 34-year-old auto mechanic as the provider for his family who trusted his wife when she told him Haleigh had a psychological disorder that caused her to repeatedly injure herself.
"By all accounts, Mr. Jason Strickland was a very hardworking individual who got wrapped up in a situation that was existing long before he went into the house," Black said.
Carhart denied the request, noting Haleigh's injuries deprived her of a normal adolescence and adult life. Earlier in the trial, the jury was shown a video in which Haleigh was in a wheelchair performing simple tasks such as feeding herself and writing her name.
Assistant District Attorney Laurel Brandt said Haleigh remembers being abused, has nightmares and initially thought she was in the hospital as punishment for stealing food because she was hungry. Doctors expect her emotional problems to continue indefinitely, Brandt said.
"The people this child relied on to love her and protect her, abused her," Brandt said. "She will never be independent."
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