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Doctor Testifies for Au Pair

October 18, 1997

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ A doctor testifying for a British au pair said Friday that the injuries leading to the death of a child in her care happened weeks before prosecutors claim she beat the infant to death.

Dr. Jan Leestma, a neuropathologist, said he believed 8-month-old Matthew Eappen died from an injury suffered two to three weeks before he was rushed to a hospital on Feb. 4. The boy died five days later.

The testimony contradicted that of prosecution doctors, who claimed the child died from violent shaking and having its head slammed on a hard surface the day he was hospitalized. Prosecutors rested their case Thursday.

Police say au pair Louise Woodward, 19, killed the baby. She is on trial on a charge of first-degree murder and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Woodward told investigators she was rough with the boy and had tossed him on a bed and dropped him on a towel, but that was all. She said he merely stopped breathing for no apparent reason.

Leetsma said the evidence showed that the child succumbed to injuries he sustained long before the hospitalization..

Pointing to pictures of brain tissue, Leestma said that blood showed the wounds were old and that the boy died when the wounds reopened and bled.

Leestma said the boy’s crankiness, lack of appetite and constipation on the day he was hospitalized were symptoms of a previous injury. He could not say what caused the wounds.

``It might or might not be an accident,″ Leestma said.

Testimony was scheduled to resume Monday.

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