Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Patricia Wen, Globe Staff
Fourteen-year-old Haleigh Poutre may still be called as a witness in the trial of her stepfather, who is accused of participating in her near-fatal beating three years ago.
At a hearing this morning in Springfield, Alan Black, a lawyer for Jason Strickland, said that the brain-damaged girl remains on the "witness list," and he declined to say for certain whether he would call her to the stand, according to first assistant clerk Kevin Claffey.
The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 29.
Haleigh, a Westfield girl who was once at the center of a national end-of-life controversy, remains at a pediatric rehabilitation facility in Brighton. Though she lapsed into a coma in the fall of 2005 and nearly had her life support removed, she has recovered to the point that she can speak some simple words and attend a day school.
Hampden Superior Court Judge Judd Carhart has said he will hold a competency hearing if Haleigh is called to the stand. Such a hearing was initially scheduled for Oct. 1, when prosecutors insisted they planned to call the girl as one of their primary witnesses. But the day before the hearing, prosecutors abruptly announced they had changed their minds and declined to say why.
Black has insisted that he may want to call Haleigh to the witness stand. He has said that the defense can only decide whether they need her testimony if they are given the opportunity to interview her, as prosecutors have done several times.
The state Department of Children and Families, which has custody of Haleigh, has only authorized prosecutors to talk to the girl and declined to give the defense team access. Carhart declined a motion two weeks ago seeking access for defense attorneys to question Haleigh. Black has appealed the judge's decision, but a ruling has not yet been made.