Louise Woodward

Louise Woodward

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The Louise Woodward case concerned a young English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 au pair
Au pair
An au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family's responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a small monetary allowance for personal use...

 convicted, at age 19, of the 1997 involuntary manslaughter of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen while he was in her care in his home in Newton, Massachusetts
Newton, Massachusetts
Newton is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States bordered to the east by Boston. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Newton was 85,146, making it the eleventh largest city in the state.-Villages:...

, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Woodward was deemed the "most notorious criminal convicted in Massachusetts" by Boston law magazine Exhibit A ten years after the death.


Five days after being admitted to Children's Hospital
Children's Hospital Boston
Children's Hospital Boston is a 396-licensed bed children's hospital in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area of Boston, Massachusetts.At 300 Longwood Avenue, Children's is adjacent both to its teaching affiliate, Harvard Medical School, and to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute...

 in Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, Matthew Eappen fell into a coma
In medicine, a coma is a state of unconsciousness, lasting more than 6 hours in which a person cannot be awakened, fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light or sound, lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle and does not initiate voluntary actions. A person in a state of coma is described as...

, and died on February 9, 1997 from a fractured skull and subdural hematoma
Subdural hematoma
A subdural hematoma or subdural haematoma , also known as a subdural haemorrhage , is a type of haematoma, a form of traumatic brain injury. Blood gathers within the outermost meningeal layer, between the dura mater, which adheres to the skull, and the arachnoid mater, which envelops the brain...

. He was also found to have a fractured wrist, an unnoticed and unexplained injury from a month earlier. Dr. Lois E.H. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., an ophthalmologist at the hospital, observed retinal hemorrhages judged characteristic of shaken-baby syndrome
Shaken baby syndrome
Shaken baby syndrome is a triad of medical symptoms: subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhage, and brain swelling from which doctors, consistent with current medical understanding, infer child abuse caused by intentional shaking...


In a statement to the police, Woodward said that she "popped the baby on the bed". There was a dispute in her case over the use of the word popped: in British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

, this phrase means "put" or "placed", and Woodward claimed she was saying that she "placed the baby on the bed". However, in American English, popped suggests violence. Her defense lawyers argued to the jury that the word popped does not have the same meaning as in American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

. However, in addition to "popping" Matthew on the bed, Woodward also told the police that she had dropped him on the floor at one point, and that she had been "a little rough" with him. The police officer who interviewed her immediately after the incident adamantly insists that she never used the word popped, but in fact said that she "dropped" the baby on the bed.

Media coverage of the case was intense, nowhere more so than in Britain. Before the trial, the defense tried to move the trial to another city, arguing that a local jury would be too biased to render a fair verdict. The judge disagreed and denied the defense motion.


The presiding judge was Hiller B. Zobel
Hiller B. Zobel
Hiller B. Zobel is an Associate Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts and author or coauthor of several books on various legal topics, including the Boston Massacre and John Adams. He graduated from Harvard College in 1953 and received his law degree in 1959 from Harvard...

. The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Gerald Leone, presented eight physicians involved in Matthew Eappen's care, including a neurosurgeon, an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, two pathologists and an expert in child abuse
Child abuse
Child abuse is the physical, sexual, emotional mistreatment, or neglect of a child. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Children And Families define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or...

, who testified to their belief that his injuries had occurred as a result of violent shaking and from his head impacting with a hard surface. The defense challenged this, among other things, on the grounds that there were no neck injuries to Matthew Eappen— injuries that they claimed would have been expected if he had been violently shaken. The prosecution had also claimed initially that Matthew Eappen's impact injuries were the equivalent of having been thrown from a two-story building, but they equivocated over this claim as the trial progressed. The defense presented expert medical testimony that the infant's injury may have occurred three weeks before the date of death, implying that the parents, Sunil and Deborah Eappen, might be implicated in negligence or abuse of the child. There were old wrist injuries to the infant that may have been incurred before Woodward even arrived at the house. Woodward, however, claimed under cross-examination that she never noticed any slight bumps, marks or any unusual behavior by the baby at any time prior to the night he was taken to hospital.

The lead counsel at Woodward's trial, and the architect of her medical and forensic defense, was Barry Scheck
Barry Scheck
Barry C. Scheck is an American lawyer. He received national media attention while serving on O.J. Simpson's defense team, winning an acquittal in the highly publicized murder case. Scheck is the director of the Innocence Project and a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York...

, co-founder of the Innocence Project
Innocence Project
An Innocence Project is one of a number of non-profit legal organizations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing, and to reforming the criminal justice systems to...

. Scheck was hired and paid for by Woodward's employer EF Education First
EF Education First
EF Education First is an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs and cultural exchange. The company was founded in 1965 by Bertil Hult, in the Swedish university town of Lund under the name Europeiska Ferieskolan...

's Cultural Care Au Pair. As part of the defense strategy, Woodward's attorneys requested that the jury not be given the option of convicting her of manslaughter (what the law calls a lesser included offense), and instead either convict her of murder or find her not guilty. Legal experts speculated that the motivation for this strategy was to help EF Education First avoid a civil lawsuit from the Eappens. EF's screening process and training for au pairs had come under scrutiny; Woodward had only received three days of training. If the death had been pre-meditated then under Massachusetts law EF Education First could not be held responsible. However, if the death was not pre-meditated then it would indicate fault with EF Education First's Cultural Care Au Pair.

On 30 October 1997, after 26 hours of deliberations, the jury found her guilty of second-degree murder. She faced a sentence of a minimum of 15 years to life in prison under Massachusetts' law.

The conviction had a side effect on killing legislation in Massachusetts to restore capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...



Woodward's legal team filed post-conviction motions to the trial court, and the hearing opened on 4 November. In the days following the verdict it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, but those who had favoured an acquittal were persuaded to accept a conviction. This fact was of no legal consequence, however. None of the jury "thought she tried to murder him," one member said.

On 10 November, at a post-conviction relief hearing, Judge Hiller B. Zobel
Hiller B. Zobel
Hiller B. Zobel is an Associate Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts and author or coauthor of several books on various legal topics, including the Boston Massacre and John Adams. He graduated from Harvard College in 1953 and received his law degree in 1959 from Harvard...

 reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, stating that "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," adding: "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
Time served
In criminal law, "time served" describes a sentence where the defendant is credited immediately after the guilty verdict with the time spent in remand awaiting trial. The time is usually subtracted from the sentence, with only the balance being served after the verdict...

 (279 days) and she was freed. Assistant District Attorney
District attorney
In many jurisdictions in the United States, a District Attorney is an elected or appointed government official who represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney is the highest officeholder in the jurisdiction's legal department and supervises a staff of...

 Gerald Leone then appealed the judge's decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Woodward's lawyers also asked the court to throw out her manslaughter conviction. The court affirmed the guilty verdict by a 7-0 vote and in a close, 4-3 split decision the court rejected the prosecution's appeal against the reduction of the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, and the sentence 16 June 1998. Woodward then returned to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...


Polygraph testing

Before the trial on 7 May 1997, Woodward decided to undergo a polygraph
A polygraph measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions...

 examination conducted by Dr David C. Raskin, a polygraph examiner hired by her own lawyers. During the course of this Woodward was asked questions about whether she caused injury to Matthew Eappen while he was in her care on 4 February 1997. Woodward denied having caused any injuries to Matthew Eappen, and Dr Raskin concluded that her answers to these questions were truthful to a confidence level of 95 percent. Dr Raskin's results were evaluated by Dr Charles Honts, another polygrapher hired by Woodward's defence lawyers, who also claimed that Woodward had answered truthfully when responding to relevant questions about whether she had injured Matthew.

The validity of the polygraph test was questioned, and expert witnesses testified, based on research conducted by Congress's independent Office of Technological Advancement, that the polygraph was inadmissible in court.

Later events

On returning home Woodward gave a press conference, which was broadcast live in the UK and Boston. She said that she would be giving an interview to the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 for no money and wanted to return to her life. The interview was conducted by Martin Bashir
Martin Bashir
Martin Bashir is a British journalist and media personality, currently with NBC News as a contributor for its Dateline program, and an afternoon anchor for MSNBC, hosting Martin Bashir...

 in a special edition of the flagship BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 programme Panorama
Panorama (TV series)
Panorama is a BBC Television current affairs documentary programme, which was first broadcast in 1953, and is the longest-running public affairs television programme in the world. Panorama has been presented by many well known BBC presenters, including Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day, David Dimbleby...

, in which she maintained her innocence.

Meanwhile, the parents of Matthew Eappen filed a civil lawsuit to prevent Woodward from earning any profits from selling her story
Son of Sam law
A Son of Sam Law is any American law designed to keep criminals from profiting from the publicity of their crimes, often by selling their stories to publishers. However, this is not in the same manner of asset forfeiture, which is intended to seize assets acquired directly as a result of criminal...

. Woodward lost the lawsuit as her legal costs were no longer covered by the nanny agency.

In 1998, the British newspaper the Daily Mail
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

stated that it had paid Woodward's parents for an exclusive interview with them.

Louise Woodward studied law at London South Bank University
London South Bank University
London South Bank University is a university in south London. With over 25,000 students and 1,700 staff, it is based in the London Borough of Southwark, near the South Bank of the River Thames, from which it takes its name...

, where she graduated with a 2:2 (Hons) degree in July 2002. In 2004 she began a training contract (the two-year training at an accredited firm that aspiring solicitors must serve) with the law firm Ainley North Halliwell, in Oldham
Oldham is a large town in Greater Manchester, England. It lies amid the Pennines on elevated ground between the rivers Irk and Medlock, south-southeast of Rochdale, and northeast of the city of Manchester...

, Greater Manchester. However, she dropped out
Dropping out
Dropping out means leaving a group for either practical reasons, necessities or disillusionment with the system from which the individual in question leaves....

 of her training contract the following year in order to pursue a career as a ballroom
Ballroom dance
Ballroom dance refers to a set of partner dances, which are enjoyed both socially and competitively around the world. Because of its performance and entertainment aspects, ballroom dance is also widely enjoyed on stage, film, and television....

 and Latin dance teacher in Chester
Chester is a city in Cheshire, England. Lying on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales, it is home to 77,040 inhabitants, and is the largest and most populous settlement of the wider unitary authority area of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 328,100 according to the...


In 2007, the British press reacted with incredulity at news of Woodward being named the "most notorious criminal convicted in Massachusetts" by Boston law magazine Exhibit A.

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