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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 11:18 GMT
US coma girl responds to stimuli
Haleigh Poutre
Haleigh Poutre, 11, has been on life support since September 2005
An 11-year-old girl, left in a coma after an alleged beating by her stepfather, is responding to stimuli, US medical officials say.

Haleigh Poutre began responding to treatment a day after Massachusetts' highest court ruled the state could take her off a life-support machine.

Her stepfather Jason Strickland fought the move but the Supreme Judicial Court ruled against him.

The 32-year-old man could face murder charges if she dies.

Haleigh is now breathing on her own and doctors will carry out more tests "to see what the movements mean", according to the state's Department for Social Services.

Violent attack

The state, which has custody of the girl, had asked for her ventilator and feeding tube to be withdrawn after doctors said she was in an irreversible vegetative state.

Haleigh was hospitalised in September 2005 after she was allegedly kicked and beaten with a baseball bat.

Mr Strickland, who has been charged with assault, says Haleigh was suffering from an emotional disorder, and that her injuries were self-inflicted.

He is trying to prove that he - not the state - should be Haleigh's guardian and is considering taking his case to a US federal court, one of his lawyers has said.

"What's the rush? Just give her a chance," Mr Strickland's lawyer John Egan said.

"Medical science is not that certain. We would hope the whole process will slow down, and everyone will step back and end the compulsion to end her life."

The girl's adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, who was also Haleigh's aunt, was also charged over the beating.

Shortly after her arrest, Ms Strickland was found dead in a double shooting.

She was discovered alongside her grandmother's body in what is believed to have been a murder-suicide. Police are still unsure who shot whom.


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