updated 1/17/2006 2:14:47 PM ET 2006-01-17T19:14:47

The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that the state can remove an 11-year-old girl from life support after she was badly beaten, allegedly by her adoptive mother and stepfather.

Haleigh Poutre of Westfield was hospitalized in September after her stepfather and adoptive mother allegedly kicked her and beat her nearly to death with a baseball bat.

The girl’s stepfather, Jason Strickland, asked the Supreme Judicial Court last month to block the state from taking her off life support. If she dies, he could face a murder charge for taking part in the beating that left her comatose.

Within two weeks of being charged with assault and battery, the adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, who was also Haleigh’s aunt, was found dead alongside her grandmother in a possible murder-suicide.

Jason Strickland is free on bail while awaiting trial on assault charges.

The state Department of Social Services has custody of the girl and wants to remove her from life support, citing opinions from her doctors that the girl is in a permanent vegetative state.

A juvenile court judge granted the state’s request to disconnect Haleigh’s feeding tube and ventilator, prompting Jason Strickland to appeal to the SJC.

Haleigh was adopted by her aunt about five years ago after her biological mother moved to Virginia with a new boyfriend. Jason Strickland never formally adopted the girl, argued that as the stepfather, he should be considered a de facto parent and allowed to have a say in whether she lives or dies.

The court said Strickland had not established that he was the girl's "de facto parent," or offered evidence that he was "a loving or nurturing."

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