Man Fights to Keep Stepdaughter He Beat into Coma Alive

Michael Demmons passes on word of a tragedy with some eerie similarities to the Schiavo case:

AP – The photos hanging on Allison Avrett’s living room wall conceal the heartache they’ve come to represent.
[…] Most of them were taken before Avrett gave Haleigh up for adoption five years ago, long before the abusive blows that police say landed the 11-year-old girl in a hospital bed attached to the ventilator and feeding tube keeping her alive. Now, with Haleigh’s doctors saying she won’t recover from her vegetative state, the child is at the center of a right-to-die legal struggle.

The state Department of Social Services, which has had custody of Haleigh since she was hospitalized on Sept. 11, wants to remove her from life support. Her stepfather, Jason Strickland, who is charged with beating her and could face a murder charge if she dies, wants to keep her alive. A Juvenile Court judge has already ruled that Haleigh should be allowed to die. Strickland appealed, and the state’s highest court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Tuesday. It will be the first time DSS has argued such a case before the Supreme Judicial Court.

Avrett, who gave up her parental rights when she let her sister adopt Haleigh in 2000, says her daughter shouldn’t suffer anymore. “They say the most she might ever do is open her eyes,” said Avrett, a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom with two other children. “I don’t want her to sit there longer than she needs to.”

Police say the injuries that left Haleigh with severe brain stem injuries came at the hands of Strickland and his wife Holli, Avrett’s sister. Within two weeks of the couple pleading innocent to the beating, Holli Strickland was dead, fatally shot in her grandmother’s West Springfield apartment. The body of her 71-year-old grandmother, Constance Young, was beside her. The possible murder-suicide is still under investigation.

In a legal brief filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Strickland, 31, asks to be declared Haleigh’s de facto parent. His lawyer, John Egan, insists his client isn’t motivated by the chance he could be charged with murder if the girl dies. “We should be coming down on the side of life as opposed to death,” he said. He cites the differing opinions of two doctors who disagree on whether the girl’s feeding tube should be removed. Both doctors say her ventilator should be shut off. If she remains attached to the feeding tube only, she could live for several months, one of the doctors said. Without the tube, death would come much quicker. “There’s a 50-50 split in the medical opinion, and we ought to — at a minimum — be moving more cautiously on this,” Egan said.

In both the Schiavo case and this one, there was an allegation that the lead male figure had caused the condition that put the person into the vegetative state and that their interest in the suit was motivated by personal gain. Of course, the alleged villain in the Schiavo case was fighting to end a life he contended was long over wherease the alleged villain in this case is fighting to save a life.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    How nasty to associate with Michael Schiavo a guy who’s been at least charged with a crime. I wish I understood the vindictiveness against the guy. God forbid that any of us be placed in his shoes, with our spouse’s brain turned to mush and her body kept alive.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Both Michael Demmons and I supported Michael Schiavo in his quest. MD’s post deals with the disparate ways in which the pro-life community is dealing with these cases. I just add that the parallels are eerie but yet reversed.

  3. McGehee says:

    I guess Anderson’s doctor won’t have to use the little rubber hammer to check his reflexes…

  4. bryan says:

    If only medical science could find a way to transplant the “life breath” of this creep into that 11-year-old girl and let him take up the vegetative state. Perhaps then justice would be done.

    {shakes head}