Once in Coma, Girl May Testify Against Alleged Attacker

More than two years after Haleigh Poutre was so brutally beaten she was left in a coma from which she was never expected to revive, the 14-year-old girl may be well enough to testify against the man accused of abusing her.

Haleigh, who was once thought to be so irreversibly brain damaged that doctors planned to remove her from life support, has spent the last two years recovering at the Franciscan Hospital for Children near Boston.

She began breathing on her own and showing other signs of brain activity in January 2006, just days before doctors planned to remove her ventilator.

Now, she is reportedly able to communicate and recall her alleged attack.

Her recovery may set up a dramatic confrontation if she takes the witness stand and testifies against her stepfather, Jason Strickland, who is accused of beating her into a coma in September 2005.

It was Strickland who fought to keep Haleigh alive in late 2005 when the Massachusetts Department of Social Services sought to remove her from life support.

"It's nothing short of phenomenal to have someone who is essentially given up for dead survive this and come out of a coma and be able to articulate what happened to her," said Tim Burke, a former prosecutor and longtime criminal defense lawyer in Boston.

According to court documents filed by Strickland's defense attorney, Haleigh has made abuse allegations against her stepfather. Court papers asking to postpone Strickland's trial say his attorney, Alan Black, has received new child abuse reports from the district attorney's office.

"It appears from [the report] that the victim is now making statements alleging abuse by the defendant," the papers say.

"This creates issues concerning competency and her ability to testify and recall events in light of her severe head trauma," say the court papers, which were first reported last week by the Boston Globe and the Springfield Republican.

The prospect of seeing Haleigh on the witness stand disturbs her biological mother, who gave up custody of her daughter when the girl was 4 and who has been barred from visiting her by the Department of Social Services.

"I'm worried about her emotional state," Allison Avrett, who now says she regrets relinquishing custody, told ABC News. "I don't think she should have to relive this."

Among all the relatives and doctors who have moved in and out of Haleigh's short life, it appears that Strickland may in fact deserve the most credit for keeping her alive.

Haleigh was brought to the hospital Sept. 11, 2005, by Strickland and Haleigh's aunt, who was also her adopted mother. Haleigh, then 11, was comatose and covered in bruises, court records say; her body temperature had dropped to 85 degrees.

The Massachusetts DSS was given custody of the girl and in October 2005 sought to remove her from life support.

Strickland fought to keep her alive, though DSS and judges noted at the time that Strickland had an incentive to do so: He could have faced murder charges if she died.

At a court hearing, doctors from Baystate Medical Center testified that Haleigh had suffered irreversible brain damage.

"Short of developing a technique for a complete brain transplant, there is no hope that medical treatment will be discovered in the foreseeable future which could reverse" her condition, a doctor said, according to court records.

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