SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – A man was found guilty on Wednesday of participating in a brutal beating that left his stepdaughter with a severe brain injury and sparked a right-to-die debate in Massachusetts.
Jurors deliberated over parts of three days before convicting Jason Strickland of five of the six charges related to the 2005 beating of his 11-year-old stepdaughter, Haleigh Poutre.
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 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.
Prosecutors claimed Strickland and his late wife, Holli, abused Haleigh over a 5-year period, culminating in a beating that left the child comatose and on life support. Holli Strickland, Haleigh's aunt to adopted the child, died in an apparent murder-suicide with her grandmother after she was charged.
Strickland, a 34-year-old auto mechanic, took the witness stand in his own defense and said he never hit Haleigh. He testified that he believed his wife's claims that Haleigh's injuries — including burns, cuts and bruises — were self-inflicted.
Haleigh's younger sister, Samantha, testified that 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. The jury at Strickland's trial was shown a video in which Haleigh was shown in a wheelchair performing simple tasks such as feeding herself and writing her name.