Au pair accused of murder takes stand, denies guilt
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
Woodward said that on the afternoon of February 4, she found
the infant boy "unresponsive in his crib."
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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?
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
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
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
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.
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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.