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Defense Lawyer Will Ask Judge To Reverse Conviction of British Nanny Louise Woodward, Who Was

October 31, 1997

Defense Lawyer Will Ask Judge To Reverse Conviction of British Nanny Louise Woodward, Who Was Found Guilty of Second-Degree Murder in Baby’s DeathBy ERICA NOONAN

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ With shoulders slumped and hands buried in her face, British au pair Louise Woodward wailed ``Why?″ after jurors found her guilty of shaking to death an 8-month-old baby because he was being fussy.

``I didn’t do anything,″ the 19-year-old nanny said through sobs as defense attorney Andrew Good embraced her. ``Why did they do that to me?″

Deborah and Sunil Eappen, physicians who have said they firmly believe Woodward killed their son Matthew, were not in the courtroom. Prosecutor Gerard Leone Jr. said the couple watched the verdict on television late Thursday and were pleased with the decision.

``They’re obviously satisfied that the person responsible for killing Matty was found responsible,″ he said.

The round-faced and soft-spoken Woodward faced life in prison for second-degree murder with a chance at parole in 15 years. The conviction meant jurors believed Woodward intentionally killed the infant she was caring for and acted with malice.

Judge Hiller Zobel was to sentence Woodward today.

The verdict stunned Woodward’s attorneys, who promised an appeal. As Woodward’s wracking sobs pierced the silent courtroom for several minutes, thousands of miles away, there were tears of dismay from friends and supporters in her hometown of Elton, England, where the case garnered gavel-to-gavel coverage.

Behind Woodward in the courtroom, her parents sat without expression after the verdict was announced. Gary Woodward, a carpenter, and his wife, Susan, an employee at an English college, had said their daughter wasn’t capable of murder.

``The parents are devastated like we all are,″ Good said.

Woodward, jailed since her arrest in February, later spent 30 minutes with her parents in an isolation cell _ something observers said was unheard of in Massachusetts courts.

``She does believe that God will deliver her. She is coping in a way that sometimes amazes me,″ defense lawyer Elaine Whitfield-Sharpe said.

It took jurors 27 hours over three days to reach a verdict. Matthew died in the hospital Feb. 9, five days after Woodward called an emergency operator to say he was unconscious.

Woodward’s attorneys admitted they had gambled and lost on a trial procedure _ successfully narrowing what crimes the jury could consider.

At their request _ one which Woodward approved _ the judge did not tell the jury they could vote to convict her of manslaughter, which carries a lighter sentence. That left jurors with three choices _ convictions on either first- or second-degree murder or acquittal.

The defense defended their choice.

``The jury let Louise down. No one else let Louise down,″ Good said. ``The only 12 people who believe Louise Woodward is guilty are the 12 people on the jury.″

Defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate said Woodward also turned down several plea-bargain offers because she was confident that she could convey her innocence to a jury.

``We will do everything as long as we live and breathe to correct what we believe was a very bad verdict,″ defense lawyer Barry Scheck said.

Prosecutors, however, said evidence that Matthew was a victim of child abuse was clear.

``This case wasn’t really a close call before it got into the courtroom,″ prosecutor Martha Coakley said. ``The jury was able to see through the medical evidence that this child had been harmed.″

The prosecution’s case relied on doctors who treated the baby and testified that medical and autopsy reports showed his injuries were caused by his head being violently shaken and slammed against a hard surface.

Prosecutors contended Woodward was frustrated with the fussy infant and a job that hampered her social life. Police officers also testified that Woodward told them she had been ``a little rough″ with Matthew, a statement she denied making.

Woodward herself was unflappable during her testifmony, denying she did anything to harm Matthew. Defense medical experts testified that Matthew had no external signs of trauma; they said he had a previously undetected head injury that could have been reopened by minor jarring.

In the United States, the case raised questions about child care. Some questioned whether parents should leave their babies in the hands of teen-age strangers, while others criticized the Eappens for working instead of staying home to care for Matthew and his 2 1/2-year-old brother Brendan.

In Britain, the murder charge was seen by many as a rush to judgment against Woodward. To some in Woodward’s hometown, a conviction seemed unfathomable for the young woman who took a year off before college.

``We just can’t believe the verdict and now we will carry on fighting for Louise,″ said the Rev. Ken Davey, vicar of St. James’ Anglican church.

Added Kate Hagan, Woodward’s best friend in high school: ``She could not have done this.″

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