Court rooms in the United States are filled with cases that despite going to trial, rarely conclude with a verdict. Evidence is not always enough to paint a clear picture of what happened to the alleged victim. This is even more true in cases involving children. Haleigh Poutre not only encountered child abuse, but also right to life and trauma.
This case proved to be a reflection of incompetence in the part of everyone involved. A number of individuals could have realized what was happening to young Haleigh Poutre but they all failed to do so. When Haleigh awoke she was able to prove how terribly wrong everyone really was.
Haleigh Poutre’s life was troublesome early on. Her mother’s boyfriend was accused of sexually abusing her by the time she was just four years old. Rather than leave the man, Haleigh’s mother sent her daughter away instead. The preschooler was sent to live with Holli Strickland, Haleigh’s maternal aunt as well as Strickland’s husband Jason. Holli adopted Haleigh in 2001 but her husband Jason did not.
Holli and Jason rushed Haleigh to the hospital on September 11, 2005. They reported the child as unresponsive. They claimed she had flu-like symptoms but the doctors found something else. The physicians at the hospital discovered Haleigh’s brain stem was partially sheared, causing her to be in a coma. They discovered more things.
Doctors discovered Haleigh didn’t just have the current injury she was treated for. They found strong evidence of abuse and it all seemed to point at Holli and her partner Jason. Her whole body had bruising and cuts. Signs of burns at various phases of healing were also found. It appeared she was burned repeatedly and frequently.
Within days of Haleigh being admitted to the hospital, both Jason and Holli were arrested. They couple was charged with assault and battery. Holli did not have a chance to go to trial as something unforeseen happened. While out on bond, Holli was shot and killed by her grandmother, Constance. Police believe it was a murder-suicide crime. Still, Jason was still up for trial.
Haleigh was living in a vegetative state. Social services debated whether it was best to take the little girl off life support. They found it was best to let her go while Jason argued against it. The state’s legal team argued Jason’s only interest in keeping Haleigh alive was to avoid a murder charge. Right to life groups questioned how ethical it was the end Haleigh’s life.
What is heartbreaking and frustrating about Haleigh’s injuries was that every professional knew better. Holli told Jason as well as health practitioners that the child had inflicted those wounds on herself. It is not out of the ordinary for child sex abuse victims to self-harm themselves. Nonetheless, the severity of the cuts, burns, and bruises should have raised a red flag that something was not right.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favour to take Haleigh off life support on January 17, 2006. The next day a team of doctors were preparing to turn off the machines keeping her alive but the child awoke in the nick of time. Social service workers observed as doctors asked Haleigh to name some of the items in the room which she did correctly. Haleigh lived.
Haleigh was able to communicate, still the abuse she endured had lasting effects. Her ability to speak, move, and function were severely damaged. Her method of communication was by pointing letters written on a board. To this day she communicates through a letter board and uses a wheelchair to move around.
Police wanted to question Haleigh almost as soon as she regained consciousness. They wanted to know who her abuser was. When investigators asked her who she felt the most safe with she spelled M-O-M. Initially confused, officers assumed Haleigh was referring to her biological mother. Haleigh spelled H-O-L-L-I, proving the child was still emotionally attached to Holli.
Upon further questioning, Haleigh revealed she was indeed abused by Holli and Jason. Haleigh was punished by both adults. Holli for her part took Haleigh to various specialists claiming the little girl was troubled from the sexual abuse she endured in the past. Haleigh believed what Holli had told her about herself.
Haleigh’s little sister wanted her chance to speak. She recanted her story where she claimed Holli and Jason were innocent. Finally, she revealed her sister had lost consciousness after Holli and Jason threw her down the stairs. Her brother who was five at the time of the abuse, never making statements against Holli nor Jason.
When Haleigh found out about Holli’s death, she was devastated. She still had strong feelings towards her adoptive mother, despite the abuse she endured. Stockholm victims are known to sympathize with their captors. Haleigh has come to terms with Holli’s death, saying Holli is “in heaven.”
Holli died before facing any repercussions for her child abuse crimes. Jason, nonetheless, was still alive and sentenced for his crimes. Strickland was sentenced in 2008 to 12 to 15 years in state prison. He appealed for a re-trial in 2015, his appeal was denied.
Haleigh is a 24-year-old who is finally happy. She is able to communicate, speaking a few words. She cannot walk or use the bathroom on her own. She loves everything Disney and her caretakers admit the young woman is always smiling and waving at them. Despite the abuse her parents put her through, Haleigh is doing well.