The split jury in Louise Woodward trial and where she is now
A documentary exploring the trial of Louise Woodward airs tonight on Channel 4. The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It? will be broadcast at 9pm and re-examine evidence from the trial over the death of baby Matthew Eappen, a case which shocked both sides of the Atlantic. Marking 25 years since the high-profile US court case, the programme features new interviews with witnesses, defence, prosecution and the jury.
Read next: The Welshman who has made millions throwing parties for Ed Sheeran, and royal families Louise Woodward, from Elton in Cheshire, was just 19 years old when she was accused of murdering eight-month-old Matthew by shaking. Working as a nanny in Massachusetts, she had been hired by Deborah and Sunil Eappen to care for their son.
On February 4, 1997, Woodward called an ambulance to the family home after Matthew stopped breathing. He was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital and put on a life support machine. Woodward was arrested and in court pleaded not guilty to battery of a child.
But police alleged she had admitted shaking the toddler and throwing him onto a pile of towels.
Deborah and Sunil Eappen of Newton, Mass., appear with their sons Brendan, left, and Matthew (Image: AP)
Matthew died six days after Woodward called the ambulance. He had suffered a severe brain haemorrhage and doctors decided to switch off his life support machine.
Prosecutors then announced they would seek a murder indictment. The trial took place in October 1997. Woodward drew criticism from the public for appearing cold throughout the highly televised court case.
The prosecution argued she had killed the nine-month-old in a “frustrated, unhappy and resentful rage”. Expert witnesses included brain surgeon Joseph Medsen, who said the head injuries Matthew suffered could have been sustained days or even weeks before he was taken to hospital. What is happening where you live?
Find out by visiting InYourArea Pathologist Gerard Feigin, who carried out the autopsy, found no evidence Matthew had been shaken, but Detective Sergeant William Byrne said Woodward had told him she “may have been a little rough” with Matthew after he had been “cranky, crying and fussy”. Almost two weeks into the trial it was Woodward’s turn to give her version of events of the night she called the ambulance, the BBC reported at the time.
She described frantic attempts to revive Matthew after he stopped breathing. She denied shaking him violently, hitting or hurting him. But the prosecution called her “a liar and aspiring actress”.
And Woodward collapsed in tears on October 30 when she was found guilty of second-degree murder, meaning a mandatory life sentence. “I didn’t do it… I didn’t hurt Matty,” she said. Woodward’s mother said the verdict was a “horrendous mistake”.
The next day Judge Hiller Zobel sent Ms Woodward to jail for life.
Louise Woodward (Image: Credit: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)
The following days saw protests in the US and her hometown of Elton. It also emerged the jury had been split about the murder charge. Woodward’s legal team filed post-conviction motions, pleading for a change in conviction.
And on November 10, Judge Zobel reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, saying “the circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterised by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense supporting a conviction for second-degree murder”. The judge added: “I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice.” Woodward’s sentence was reduced to time served.
In her case, this was 279 days awaiting trial – and she was free to leave prison. Assistant District Attorney Gerald Leone unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision and in June 1998 Woodward returned to the UK. The Liverpool Echo reports that Louise went to study law at London South Bank University after she arrived back in the UK.
She graduated with a 2:2 degree in 2002 and began a career at a Manchester law firm, before dropping out to work as a dance teacher. Woodward moved to Shropshire after she married a truck hire company boss and has since become a mum. The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It? airs at 9pm on Sunday (January 9) on Channel 4.
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