Articles Posted in Child Abuse & Neglect

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down California’s law banning the sale or rental of brutally violent, interactive video games to teenagers is a low point in this country’s culture. To say that the day this decision was issued (Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association,) was a “sad day,” is far, far too inadequate: It struck a new low point in this country’s culture – a culture once civil, dignified and decent; now soaked wet with the sewage of violence, depravity and perversity.

Readers of this blog know that I’ve written preemptively, and passionately, about this critically important decision that the court was weighing. If you haven’t read my previous posts on this case and this subject, I’d encourage anyone reading today’s post to click on that link immediately above in this paragraph, and read my two previous posts on this subject. If the above link doesn’t take you to the first of those two previous posts, you can simply go to the “Search” field on the right side of this page, at the bottom of the “Topics” directory, and enter the words “violent video games.” The results page should show you both of my previous two posts on this case. Click on each and you’ll be taken to the full post for each.

People know how I feel about the moral degradation of this country being openly fed by a judiciary that is all-consumed with the right of “commercial free speech.” This doctrine, extrapolated from the laudable original goals of the First Amendment, has been perverted to allow all sorts of depravity in this country. While some (primarily liberals and corporate media interests) will argue that this decision is technically accurate on a purely legal level, it is morally – and dangerously – flawed. These depraved, and highly interactive and realistic video “games” are so barbaric and sadistic that words fail an adequate description. If you care to know just what they are like, and what’s in them, I suggest you read both of my Part One and Part Two posts previously published on this blog.

The trial of Kristen LaBrie was brought to a close earlier this week, with an Essex County jury finding her guilty on each of the four counts that she was charged with: 1) Attempted murder; 2) Assault and battery on a disabled person with injury; 3) assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and 4) Reckless endangerment of a child, for withholding medication from her son, Jeremy Fraser.

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office argued that Jeremy could have survived a treatable case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that he had been diagnosed with in October 2006 when he was 7 years old, but that LaBrie failed to administer chemotherapy treatments. Prosecutors alleged that LaBrie intentionally withheld the medications because she did not wish to care for her son who suffered from autism; in effect, that she attempted to cause his death. By the time his doctors realized the boy was not taking his medication, his condition had advanced to leukemia, and became untreatable. He died at age 9. Prosecutors argued that LaBrie’s failure to administer the prescribed chemotherapy medications was a substantial factor that contributed to the boy’s death, as it allowed the cancer to spread even though it had previously been sent into remission.

LaBrie’s defense had argued that she honestly believed that the medications her son was prescribed were making him more ill than the disease itself, and that she couldn’t bear to see him made so sick by those medications. Her lawyer argued that she suffered from mental exhaustion, and that she made what she believed were the best decisions that she could make, to care for her son. Prior to Jeremy’s death, state child welfare officials removed the boy from his mother’s care, and custody was awarded to the boy’s father, now deceased. However, at that point the boy’s cancer was no longer treatable. The prosecution introduced evidence that after her son’s death, LaBrie acted in a manner inconsistent with a grieving mother; that in fact, she appeared happy and even celebratory.

In my previous post on this subject, I wrote of the guilty verdicts returned by a jury last week in Springfield, Massachusetts, against Jason Strickland, the stepfather of Haleigh Poutre. The evidence against Strickland was compelling, he’s been found guilty, and hopefully his sentencing on December 11 will be extremely severe, as it should be. I say this as a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who believes every person has the constitutional right to a zealous defense of any charges against him or her. But now that guilt has been established, someone like this deserves as severe a sentence as can be handed down. It isn’t at all inconsistent for a defense attorney to believe in punishment after guilt had been established beyond a reasonable doubt, and Mr. Strickland’s appellate rights will remain unchanged under the Massachusetts sentencing parameters for this crime.

But there are other guilty parties in this sad story, and at the center of them is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through its child protection agency, the Department of Social Services (DSS.) The negligence exhibited by DSS caseworkers in this case is appalling. On numerous occasions over five years’ time, several people reported their suspicions to health workers and DSS officials that this young child was being badly abused by her step parents. Reporting parties included doctors and nurses at hospitals and medical offices that Haleigh was treated at on various occasions over those five years, as well as teachers, and even neighbors. According to sources, after each of these reports, DSS workers made inquiry to Haleigh’s stepmother Holli Strickland, and her stepfather Jason Strickland. Both Stricklands told DSS workers that Haleigh was responsible for casing her own injuries – and shockingly, DSS believed it. Repeatedly. Over five years. These injuries included cigarette burns, whip marks, ligature (rope) marks, welts and bruises from being beaten by something resembling an electric cord, cuts, lacerations, bruises, concussions and sprains. Yes, you read correctly: In the face of injuries and evidence like this, DSS officials bought repeated stories offered up by these twisted step parents that this young girl had “A habit of hurting herself.”

Incompetence and negligence on this level strains credulity. But it happened. Now, what to do about it? Plainly put, heads should roll here: There should be a top-to-bottom review of who was in charge at DSS when this incompetence was allowed to take place, and all responsible people involved in this inexcusable tale should lose their jobs, immediately. Further, DSS leaders and its caseworkers should not only be sued civilly for gross negligence, they should be held criminally responsible for what occurred here. Legally accomplishing this would be a tough task – something known as “reckless disregard” would likely need to be shown on the part of DSS executive leadership and its caseworkers, as opposed to ordinary negligence. There is also the problem of something known as the “sovereign immunity” of DSS leaders and workers acting in their official capacity. Notwithstanding, I believe a state prosecution should be undertaken here. It is not enough for DSS to “have the best of intentions.” It is not enough that it “means well.”

This past Wednesday, November 26, a Hampden County jury found Jason Strickland, stepfather of Haleigh Poutre, guilt on five of six counts of child abuse and neglect. This case has become famous for several important reasons: First, Haleigh has tragically become an icon for child abuse and neglect by parents and caregivers within many homes in this state, and across the country as a whole. Secondly, the case has raised right-to-life issues: Haleigh’s multiple injuries were so severe that several doctors determined that she had suffered irreversible brain damage, was in a “persistent vegetative state”, and would never emerge from that state. Based on those medical diagnoses, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS – the state child protection agency,) waged a four-month legal battle to remove life-support from the girl. Shortly after the state won that battle, Haleigh emerged from unconsciousness, and began breathing on her own. Now 14 years old, she can speak simple sentences, and communicate with an alphabet board.

Third, this case exposed the incompetence and neglect practiced far too often by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS), the state’s child protection agency. Evidence in the case made clear that for five years, state officials failed to detect the abuse this child was suffering, and failed miserably in their charge to protect this tragic, and innocent, figure.

Strickland, who was married to Haleigh’s adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, was found to have not only abused Haleigh himself, but also to have recklessly permitted multiple instances of abuse to be perpetrated against Haleigh by Holli Strickland, who the jury apparently concluded was the chief abuser in this horrid story. Shortly after the Stricklands were arrested on charges of abusing Haleigh, Holli Strickland was killed in an apparent murder-suicide committed by her (Holli’s) grandmother, who raised her. The world became a better place when that day arrived.