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Au Pair Medical Theories Debated

November 16, 1997

BOSTON (AP) _ For all its explosive public twists and turns, the case of Louise Woodward remains a murder mystery.

The lingering question: Could an 8-month-old child, as the defense maintained, sustain a mortal blow to the head and continue for weeks to appear as if nothing had happened?

No, many doctors say.

One group of doctors from San Diego looked at 15 years of medical records of children who died of injuries similar to those suffered by Matthew Eappen, the child Woodward stands convicted of killing, and concluded that such a serious injury would not go unnoticed for long.

Dr. David Chadwick said he and his colleagues in San Diego analyzed the cases of 95 children and consider the defense’s ``prior injury″ theory to be incorrect.

They concluded that the chances Matthew was hurt weeks before the infant was taken to Children’s Hospital, as the defense contends, are ``something like 100 to 1,″ Chadwick told The Boston Globe.

Defense attorneys painted that scenario to explain the baby’s death. He was not killed, they said by being violently shaken and slammed into a hard object by Woodward, his teen-age British au pair.

Woodward was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, though a judge reduced that verdict to manslaughter and released her last week after sentencing her to the 279 days she already had spent in prison.

The medical community is split on the question of whether Matthew could have sustained such a prior injury, although most doctors agree with the prosecution’s claim that the injury occurred the same day the baby was taken to the hospital _ Feb. 4, a day he was at home with Woodward and his 2-year-old brother.

He died five days later.

Of the 95 injuries studied by Chadwick and his colleagues, 94 died soon after being knocked unconscious. The 95th died of complications from surgery.

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