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Cross-examination of nanny called 'minefield' for prosecution

Louise Woodward October 26, 1997
Web posted at: 7:22 p.m. EST (0022 GMT)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) - Gerard Leone Jr., the prosecutor who on Monday is to cross-examine the British nanny accused of murder, has a difficult task ahead of him. He has to be tough, but he can't appear arrogant.

"He has to go after her, shake her credibility. But, at the same time, he can't be seen to be bullying her," said Peter Elikann, chairman of the Massachusetts Bar Association's criminal justice section.

"It's not an easy task and it will take a very talented lawyer," Elikann said. "He has got to tap dance through a minefield."

Leone, whom colleagues described as "a talented lawyer," is leading the case against Louise Woodward, the 19-year-old au pair from England who is charged with first-degree murder in the February death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen.

On the stand Thursday, Woodward came across as soft-spoken, sweet and very believable, according to some who watched her testimony broadcast live in both the United States and England. She wept as she described how she found Matthew gasping for breath and then called for help.

"Cross examination of a young female witness by a physically powerful male attorney is always a minefield," said criminal defense attorney and former Middlesex County prosecutor J.C. Carney Jr.

"He must make his points without appearing to bully or trick or trap a young witness unfairly."

Both Carney and Elikann said that unless Leone shakes Woodward's credibility, the charge of murder in the first degree likely will not stand.

Woodward, who has been held without bail for eight months, faces a sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of murder in the first degree. It is not known if the judge hearing the case, Hiller Zobel, will allow jurors to consider lesser charges.

Zobel, however, told the jury that they can expect to get the case by Tuesday at the latest.

Woodward, who comes from 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 of what she wanted to study in college. She was paid $115 a week and given room and board.

Woodward said she called police on the afternoon of February 4 when she found Matthew unresponsive in his crib. She said she tried to give the baby cardiopulmonary resuscitation and called for emergency help when she was unable to reach the parents.

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.

The prosecution argues that Woodward shook the infant in anger because of a curfew imposed by the family limited her social activities. Matthew's parents had testified that they were unhappy with Woodward because of her 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 said that she did not have the impression they were going to fire her.

The defense maintains that Matthew died as the result of a head injury that occurred before February 4.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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