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Jury Receives Case of British Nanny Charged With Killing Baby in Her Care in MassachusettsBy

October 28, 1997

Jury Receives Case of British Nanny Charged With Killing Baby in Her Care in MassachusettsBy ROBIN ESTRIN

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ In a murder case that may be every parent’s nightmare, a jury began deliberating Tuesday whether a 19-year-old English au pair murdered a baby by shaking him and slamming his head.

In closing arguments, prosecutors portrayed Louise Woodward as a ``little aspring actress″ who lied about hurting 8-month-old Matthew Eappen, while Ms. Woodward’s lawyers argued that prosecutors had failed even remotely to prove that she killed the little boy.

``She’s going to go home. She’s going to go back to school. And if you do your job, someday she’ll get married and she’ll be somebody’s mother,″ defense attorney Andrew Good said. ``And she’ll be a wonderful mother.″

Prosecutors said Ms. Woodward killed the baby out of frustration with his fussing and the demands of her job, which interfered with her social life. According to testimony, she had clashed with the baby’s parents about curfews and leaving him unattended.

Ms. Woodward denied on the stand that she ever hurt Matthew, and her lawyers argued that his injuries may have been weeks old.

At Ms. Woodward’s request, the jury of nine women and three men was told to consider only a first- or second-degree murder charge and not manslaughter. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence; second-degree means a sentence of at least 15 years.

The jury deliberated for about five hours Tuesday without reaching a verdict. They were to resume Wednesday morning.

The case, which is being covered live on Court TV, has spotlighted the difficulties in finding reliable child care. It has exposed class fault lines as well.

On talk radio and in letters and phone calls, people have criticized the baby’s parents, Sunil and Deborah Eappen _ both doctors, living in the well-to-do Boston suburb of Newton _ for entrusting their two young boys to a low-paid teen-ager with little child-care training.

In England, many people were angry that prosecutors even charged the young woman with murder.

Matthew slipped into a coma during Ms. Woodward’s watch Feb. 4 and died in his father’s arms at a hospital five days later.

Prosecutor Gerard Leone Jr. characterized the defense as a ``high-priced theatric production″ and called Ms. Woodward a ``little aspiring actress″ who told half-truths. The baby’s injuries, which included a 2 1/2-inch crack in his skull, could have been caused only by Ms. Woodward, he said.

``Make no mistake about it,″ Leone told the jury. ``This is a case of child abuse.″

Frustrated that she had to bathe the cranky baby, Ms. Woodward shook Matthew once, and later shook him again and slammed his head down, Leone said.

Leone said her emergency 911 call proves her guilt. Matthew was on his back in the kitchen, with Ms. Woodward kneeling beside him, telling the operator on the phone that the baby might have choked on his vomit. Although the operator instructed her to turn Matthew onto his stomach, Ms. Woodward never did, Leone said, because she knew he wasn’t choking.

Defense attorney Barry Scheck, who was part of O.J. Simpson’s legal team, blasted prosecution witness Dr. Eli Newberger, head of the child protection unit at Children’s Hospital, for making a ``snap judgment″ that Matthew was abused. Scheck said the medical evidence proves the injury was as much as three weeks old.

``All she ever tried to do on Feb. 4,″ Sheck said, ``was save this child’s life.″