Last winter, just as the state’s highest court was about to rule that a girl in an "irreversible vegetative state" should be removed from life support, 14-year-old Haleigh Poutre started to breathe on her own.

Haleigh, who spent the past two years at a pediatric rehabilitation hospital in Brighton, Mass., suffered a near-fatal head injury in September 2005.

Communicating with simple words and hand gestures and by spelling out full sentences by pointing to alphabet letters on a board Haleigh in December described to police the intense physical abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her adoptive mother and stepfather, Holli and Jason Strickland, The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday.

Incidentally, Haleigh’s sister, Samantha Poutre, has given police a new statement about Haleigh’s injury, which put her in a coma. Samantha initially told investigators that Haleigh was practicing a back flip when she hit her head on a basement pipe, according to defense lawyers.

Now, Samantha is saying that Jason Strickland kicked Haleigh down a flight of stairs.

Haleigh would not give investigators specifics about the events surrounding her injury. She only said that the Stricklands used corporal punishment regularly during her childhood.

Jason Strickland brought a bruised and unconscious Haleigh to the emergency room of Noble Hospital in Westfield, Mass., on Sept. 11, 2005. He told medical professionals she had become unresponsive after suffering flu-like symptoms.

The Department of Social Services took custody of the Stricklands’ two other children within two days; one week later the couple was criminally charged with assault and battery in connection with Haleigh’s injury, according to the newspaper.

Prosecutors described Holli Strickland as the harsher of the two abusers, although Haleigh expressed fond feelings of her adoptive mother, whom she has lived with since she was 4.

Then, a day after being released on bail, Holli Strickland died of gunshot wounds; police believe it was a murder-suicide incident involving Holli Strickland’s grandmother.

Jason Strickland’s defense lawyer, Alan Black, indicated in court records that he will question Haleigh’s mental competence due to the severity of her injury.

The case is set to go to trial this fall.

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