BOSTON – Saying "errors in judgment were made," Gov. Mitt Romney on Monday announced an independent investigation into the state's handling of the case of a brain-damaged 11-year-old girl at the center of a right-to-die battle.
Haleigh Poutre was allegedly beaten into a coma last year by her adoptive mother and stepfather, who fought the state's efforts to disconnect the girl from her life support. The state's highest court granted the state permission last week to disconnect her from her ventilator and feeding tube. But the next day, the Department of Social Services revealed her condition had improved and she was breathing on her own.
Romney, a Republican who is considering a run for president in 2008, said he will establish a panel to review the girl's entire 10-year case log with the Department of Social Services.
The commission, whose members will be announced later this week, will look into whether case workers missed signs of physical abuse leading up to the September beating that landed Haleigh in the hospital, and the agency's handling of her care afterward.
"One cannot look at the life of Haleigh Poutre without being overwhelmed with sadness," Romney said at a Statehouse news conference. "She was not someone who fell through the cracks — doctors and social workers were watching, but errors in judgment were made."
Romney's announcement of an independent review comes amid calls from several state lawmakers who also want to question social services Commissioner Harry Spence about the department's handling of the case.
Haleigh had been on life-support since her hospitalization with a badly damaged brain stem that authorities say resulted from abuse administered by her stepfather, Jason Strickland, and her adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, Jason Strickland's wife. Both were charged with assault.
But less than two weeks later, Holli Strickland, whose sister is Haleigh's birth mother, was found dead alongside her grandmother in a possible murder-suicide.
Jason Strickland fought the state's efforts to remove her life support, but the Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that he could not prove that his role in Haleigh's life was "of a loving or nurturing nature, or even that it was beneficial to the child."