What happened to Matthew Eappen’s parents after high-profile trial
The death of baby Matthew Eappen left his parents devastated and determined to fight for justice. Louise Woodward, from Elton in Cheshire, was just 19 years old when she was accused of murdering Deborah and Sunil Eappen’s eight-month-old son. She was alleged to have killed Matthew by shaking while working as a nanny for the Massachusetts family in 1997.
Read next:Tributes paid to popular and ‘dedicated’ former head teacher after sudden death Marking 25 years since the high-profile US court case, a Channel 4 documentary exploring Woodward’s trial airs at 9pm tonight. The programme features new interviews with witnesses, defence, prosecution and the jury.
The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It? re-examines evidence from the trial which saw Woodward convicted of second-degree murder and jailed for life before the conviction was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and she was freed having spent less than a year in prison.
What happened to Matthew’s parents after the trial?
Sunil and Deborah married in 1990 after meeting in medical school. Chicago-born Sunil went on to work as an anaesthetist at a Boston hospital, while Deborah worked part-time as an ophthalmologist following the birth of their first child Brendan. After Matthew’s death they founded the Matty Eappen Foundation at the Boston Children Hospital.
The couple said at the time: “This foundation was established in his memory to improve the safety and welfare of children by educating the public about the dangers of shaking a child and to provide assistance to victims and their families.”
Louise Woodward in June 1998 speaking on BBC Panorama to Martin Bashir (Image: BBC)
The Eappens filed for millions of pounds in compensation from Woodward in 1999. They reached an out-of-court settlement with Woodward preventing her from making any money from telling her story about the events surrounding Matthew’s death. Lawyer for the Eappen family, Frederic Ellis, said at the time that his clients had “achieved their goal” of ensuring that Louise Woodward did not profit, adding: “The civil suit was able to accomplish what the criminal justice system failed to.”
And Woodward said at the time: “Accepting this settlement and agreeing to it is not accepting any liability in any way. I will always maintain that I never hurt Matthew and I did not kill Matthew. And I will always do everything I possibly can to state that again and again and hopefully one day to prove it.”
To get the latest email updates from the What’s On WalesOnline team, click here. Deborah told Good Morning America in 2007: “I feel like a positive from this is to be able to say to our kids, ‘Look, when something goes really wrong, we are able to make a difference by trying to make something really right.'” Sunil and Deborah have three other children, Brendan, Kevin and Elisabeth.
According to The Sun, the couple were still practising medicine last year in Massachusetts — Sunil as an anaesthesiologist in Boston and Deborah as an ophthalmologist in Wellesley.
The background to the case
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. 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.
Louise Woodward (Image: Credit: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)
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. 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. What is happening where you live?
Find out by visiting InYourArea 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.
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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