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Strickland v. Goguen

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 25, 2019




         On November 26, 2008, Petitioner Jason Strickland (“Strickland” or “Petitioner”) was convicted of numerous counts related to his alleged assault of Haleigh Poutre, his minor stepdaughter, including assault and battery causing substantial bodily injury (“Count One”), assault and battery causing bodily injury (“Count Two”), two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, including a bat and wand or tube (“Count Three and Five”), and assault and battery (“Count Six”). [Supplemental Answer (“S.A.”) at 151–56]. Presently before this Court is Strickland’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [ECF No. 1]. Strickland challenges his convictions, claiming (i) the state court violated his right to present a full defense by excluding medical records and testimony of Haleigh’s treatment providers and (ii) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to consult or obtain a child abuse expert witness on Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (“MSBP”). [ECF No. 1 at 5, 7]. Having reviewed the parties’ submissions, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.


         In reviewing a habeas petition from an individual in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, federal courts are required to presume that factual determinations made by the state courts are correct and “can be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Rashad v. Walsh, 300 F.3d 27, 35 (1st Cir. 2002) (quoting Ouber v. Guarino, 293 F.3d 19, 27 (1st Cir. 2002)).

         On July 24, 2006, a Hampden County grand jury indicted Strickland on six counts of assault and battery and trial began on October 29, 2008.[1] [S.A. at 85–86, 119–24]. The Massachusetts Appeals Court (“Appeals Court”) provided an account of the facts as the jury could have found them, which is reproduced in relevant part below.

On Sunday, September 11, 2005, at about 2:45 P.M., eleven-year-old Haleigh was brought to the emergency room at Noble Hospital by her mother, Holli Strickland [“Holli”], and Holli’s uncle, Brian Young. Haleigh was unconscious and unresponsive, her vital signs were very poor, and she was barely breathing. The back of her head was bleeding and so badly damaged that medical personnel described it as “boggy, ” i.e., swollen due to blood filling the scalp tissue. “Huge” burns were observed on her chest, and her face was bloody, bruised, and “distorted.” A “CT scan” of her brain was taken, as were photographs of her body. Haleigh was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at Baystate Medical Center at about 5 P.M. that day. The admitting nurse testified that Haleigh’s body core temperature was just eighty-one degrees, her pupils were “fixed, ” and she was “posturing” her limbs, signaling a traumatic brain injury. A second CT scan was performed at 7:30 P.M., and an “MRI” scan was completed the next morning. Haleigh’s body was covered with other injuries of varying age . . . .
. . .
At the time of the injuries, Haleigh was living in the family home with her stepfather, [Strickland]; her aunt and adoptive mother, Holli; Haleigh’s sister, [Samantha Poutre], who was nine years old in 2005; and Haleigh’s brother, who was two years old in 2005. After being alerted to Haleigh’s injuries, the police searched her home and noticed holes, indentations, and small brown blood stains on the walls of the stairway leading to the basement. Blood stains were also located on three walls of the basement playroom area, as well as in the first-floor bathroom. The blood stains on the walls of the basement stairway and in the bathroom were swabbed, tested, and determined to match Haleigh’s blood.

Commonwealth v. Strickland, 23 N.E.3d 135, 139–40 (Mass. App. Ct. 2015).

         The government presented medical expert testimony which the Appeals Court described as follows:

Dr. Richard Hicks [“Dr. Hicks”] reviewed Haleigh’s scans, and opined at trial that Haleigh had suffered severe injuries to the brain, of the type “ordinarily . . . associated with high velocity motor vehicle accidents.” Dr. Hicks explained that such injuries would have rendered Haleigh unconscious immediately and that based on the MRI and CT scans, he placed the brain injuries as having occurred at about 4 P.M. on Saturday, September 10, 2005, the day before Haleigh was first brought to the hospital. Dr. Hicks opined that a simple fall down the stairs would not have the force necessary to cause these injuries in a child.
Another trial expert, Dr. Christine Barron [“Dr. Barron”], corroborated Dr. Hicks’s testimony, stating that for the injuries to Haleigh’s brain to have resulted from a staircase fall, it “would have to be a fall down the stairs with significant external forces, such as a [strong] push or a kick of the child at the top of the stairs.” Dr. Barron estimated that Haleigh had sustained the severe head injuries some twelve to twenty-four hours before the Noble Hospital staff took the photographs. Dr. Barron also proffered her opinion as to the nature and manner of infliction of Haleigh’s multiple other injuries.[2] She stated that the red bruises on the child’s body were consistent with blunt force trauma, also inflicted twelve to twenty-four hours before the pictures were taken. Dr. Barron specifically identified two injuries that in her opinion could not be self-inflicted: a linear scar that ran from Haleigh’s right ribcage, across her torso, and behind her hip; and a dry contact burn to her chest. Dr. Barron further testified that she could not give an opinion that any of the injuries were self-inflicted. Dr. Barron opined that the multiple injuries and scars occurred at different times, some having occurred within the twenty-four hours preceding her hospitalization, while others were at least one week old; she could not date some injuries.


         Further, Haleigh’s sister, a minor, testified at trial that she had seen her mother and Strickland beat Haleigh on a number of occasions.

At trial, Haleigh’s sister was twelve. She testified that she had seen Holli and [Strickland] hit Haleigh with their hands, a belt, and a baseball bat, and that she saw scabs and bruises all over Haleigh, with whom she shared a bedroom. Haleigh’s sister also recounted how Holli and [Strickland] would push Haleigh down the basement stairs to punish her and how [Strickland] began pushing Haleigh down the stairs shortly after he moved into the home, around 2002.
Haleigh’s sister testified that after her soccer game on Saturday, September 10, 2005, she saw [Strickland] push Haleigh down the basement stairs and that this time Haleigh did not “wake up.” Haleigh’s sister heard [Strickland] order Haleigh to get up and then saw both Holli and [Strickland] shaking Haleigh to awaken her, but she remained on her back at the bottom of the stairs. Haleigh’s sister saw [Strickland] carry Haleigh upstairs and place her in the bathtub in the first-floor bathroom.[3] Haleigh’s sister added that a little later she saw [Strickland] carry Haleigh up to bed. Haleigh was not awake.
That evening Holli told a friend, a certified home health aide, that Haleigh was ill and that she had stayed home with Haleigh while [Strickland] went to the mall with Haleigh’s sister and brother. Holli declined the home health aide’s offer to come over and take a look at Haleigh.[4] The next morning, Holli again spoke to her friend and told her that Haleigh was still sleeping and then called a pediatrician at about 10:30 A.M. The doctor on call who returned the message was not Haleigh’s regular pediatrician. She testified that Holli reported that Haleigh had the stomach flu and had vomited twice; she offered to see Haleigh in one hour, but Holli declined the appointment.
The family had another soccer game to attend that afternoon, and because Haleigh was still “asleep, ” Holli asked Alicia Weiss [“Weiss”], her neighbor and close friend, to watch Haleigh. Weiss arrived after noon, and the family left at about 12:30 P.M., leaving Weiss alone with Haleigh. Weiss testified that she checked on Haleigh three times. She saw some foam on Haleigh’s mouth and testified that Haleigh neither moved nor woke up. The family returned at about 2:30 P.M., accompanied by . . . [Holli’s uncle Brian] Young. At Holli’s urging, Young checked on Haleigh and immediately realized something was very wrong; he carried her downstairs and brought her to Noble Hospital.

Id. at 140–41.

         The sister’s account was corroborated by other eyewitness testimony concerning additional instances in which Strickland had beaten or otherwise abused Haleigh.

At trial, the Commonwealth introduced other eyewitness accounts of [Strickland] abusing Haleigh, including incidents in which [Strickland] (1) struck Haleigh in the hand with a plastic tubular wand; (2) aided Holli in interrogating Haleigh as Holli beat her lower legs with a bat; (3) dragged Haleigh into the house by her ear, causing her to cry; (4) together with Holli took Haleigh into the bathroom, after which a muffled ...

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