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Au pair accused of murder takes stand, denies guilt

Woodward October 23, 1997
Web posted at: 12:47 p.m. EDT (1647 GMT)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The British au pair on trial for murder in the death of a baby in her care took the stand on Thursday and denied the charge. Louise Woodward, 19, is accused of killing 8-month-old Matthew Eappen at his family's Newton, Massachusetts, home.

Prosecutors maintain Woodward was frustrated and angry with the baby's parents who objected to her late nights out and that on February 4, Woodward violently shook and then slammed the baby's head against a hard surface, causing the massive brain damage that led to his death five days later at Children's Hospital in Boston.

"Did you ever shake Matthew Eappen violently?" Woodward was asked by defense attorney Andrew Good. "No," she answered in a soft voice. Good then asked Woodward: Did she ever "hit," or "slam Matthew about the head?" To each question she responded, "No".

Woodward said that on the afternoon of February 4, she found the infant boy "unresponsive in his crib." (icon 128K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The case has attracted the attention of many professional couples who rely on hired help to care for their children, but have anxiety about doing so.

An au pair is an employee who exchanges services such as being a nanny for children in return for room and board.

Violent shaking, or old injuries?

Matthew Eappen

Earlier Thursday, Dr. Michael Baden, a respected forensic pathologist who appeared as a defense witness in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, said Matthew's injuries -- a skull fracture and a blood clot that had dried and then began to bleed again -- appeared to have happened at the same time, but at least three weeks prior to February 4.

"It didn't happen the way she was being charged," Baden told prosecutor Martha Coakley. "There are no marks on the baby that would support such a possibility," Baden testified Thursday.

A series of earlier defense witnesses also have testified the baby's injuries were caused by something other than shaking and slamming. Their conclusions conflict with those of prosecution witnesses, including a surgeon who treated the boy.

One of them, Dr. Ayub Ommaya, said Wednesday he had evaluated Eappen's case by reading the autopsy report and other documents. He said his reading led him to believe that Matthew's injuries were old.

Under questioning by Barry Scheck, a defense attorney in the Simpson murder case, Ommaya said a better explanation for the injuries the baby suffered "is that it happened about three weeks ago -- prior to February 4."

But under a forceful cross-examination by Coakley, Ommaya said his first conclusion was that the child's injury occurred 12 to 48 hours before he was rushed to the hospital emergency room -- not three weeks before, as he had testified.

Lawyers for Woodward, who has been held without bail since her arrest eight months ago, also have argued Matthew may have suffered from a genetic disposition making him susceptible to fractures.

The defense has been trying to depict the baby's parents as busy professionals too wrapped up in their careers to closely monitor their child's care. Last week, the boy's sobbing mother, Dr. Deborah Eappen, told the hushed courtroom that Matthew died in her arms. (icon 153K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

On the stand Wednesday, Woodard's mother described Louise as a smart, caring girl. Susan Woodward, from the small English village of Elton in Chester, told the jury that her eldest daughter acted as a "big sister to all the other children" in the family.

If convicted of first degree murder, Woodward faces a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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