Nanny says she didn't harm baby
British teen defends herself at murder trial
October 23, 1997
Web posted at: 7:19 p.m. EDT (2319 GMT)
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A British teen-ager charged with shaking a Massachusetts baby to death took the stand in her own defense Thursday, denying that she did anything to harm the child.
Louise Woodward, 19, stands accused of killing 8 1/2-month old Matthew Eappen, who died in February. The teen-ager had been hired as a live-in nanny by Eappen's parents.
"Did you ever shake Matthew wildly?" defense attorney Andrew Good asked.
"No," answered Woodward.
"Did you ever hit Matthew?"
"Did you ever slam Matthew about the head?"
Did she ever do anything to harm the baby?
Woodward said she called police on the afternoon of February 4 when she found Matthew unresponsive in his crib.
"He seemed off color. His eyes were half closed. He wasn't breathing properly. He was gasping for breath," she said.
"His head went back and he was really really pale. He wasn't breathing properly," she said. "So I really, really panicked. I laid him on the bed and started screaming his name and started clapping around his head and was trying to see if he could see me, waving my hands."
She said tried to give the baby cardiopulmonary resuscitation and called for emergency help when she was unable to reach the parents.
Woodward takes stand again Monday
The baby died five days later. Prosecutors charged Woodward with first-degree murder, accusing her of shaking Matthew and slamming his head against a hard surface.
Woodward faces life in prison without parole if convicted. After her attorney took her through her direct testimony Thursday, she was cross-examined by a prosecutor for about a half hour before court recessed. She will take the stand again Monday, when the trial resumes after a day off Friday.
Woodward, from Elton, England, a suburb of Liverpool, said she came to the United States to work as a nanny in June 1996 so she could learn about the culture and because she was unsure what she wanted to study in college. She was paid $115 a week, as well as room and board.
Her case has drawn attention in both the United States and Britain, including questions about the appropriateness of parents leaving a child in the care of a teen-aged stranger for long hours.
The prosecution argues that Woodward shook the infant in anger because a curfew imposed by the family limited her social activities. Matthew's parents, both physicians, testified earlier that they were unhappy with Woodward because of her late hours and had issued an ultimatum about being more diligent a week before the baby died.
On the witness stand, Woodward said she had left an earlier job as a nanny in another Massachusetts town because of a curfew imposed by that family, She admitted that the Eappens had expressed concerns to her about late hours.
But Woodward said she did not have the impression they were going to fire her. "My impression was they wanted me to stay, and they wanted things to work out," she said.
Defense: Earlier injury caused death
The defense maintains that Matthew died as the result of a head injury that occurred prior to February 4. Both the defense and prosecution have put competing medical experts on the stand to support their version of events.
Woodward testified that Matthew might have hit his head the day before when he fell near the steps of his playroom. The child frequently toppled over, she said.
Earlier, forensic pathologist Michael Baden testified for the defense that there was no evidence Matthew suffered a skull fracture the day Woodward called police.
Baden, who also appeared in the O.J. Simpson 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 said. "There are no marks on the baby that would support such a possibility."
Under cross-examination, Baden admitted he told Woodward's lawyers in July that the injuries may have been only 12 hours old when the child was first hospitalized.
"I think I indicated to them that that was not a fresh injury. It occurred at least 12 hours before the baby was brought to the hospital," said Baden, head of medical investigations for the New York State Police.
He said his opinion changed when he later examined the fracture.
Woodward's parents, sitting in the first row of spectators, grimaced as Baden also admitted he testified in a 1989 child abuse case that an accidental fall of one to three feet would not be fatal to a baby.
Reuters contributed to this report.