British au pair chooses 'all or nothing' verdict
Murder or acquittal: Jury can't consider manslaughter option
October 27, 1997
Web posted at: 7:59 p.m. EST (0059 GMT)
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- British au pair Louise
Woodward is gambling that the jury in her case won't find
enough evidence to convict her of murder in the death of an
Woodward, 19, and her attorneys told the judge they only want
the jury to be instructed on charges of first- and
second-degree murder -- and not a lesser charge of
manslaughter. Closing arguments are set for Tuesday morning.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge Hiller Zobel agreed with their
|Leone questions Woodward about her
preliminary statements to police
|"Didn't you drop Matthew ... ?"
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|"Didn't you toss Matthew ... ?"
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Under Massachusetts law, Woodward was allowed to choose an
"all or nothing" verdict. Zobel warned Woodward that with her
decision, she would face at least 50 years behind bars if
"I choose the first option," Woodward told the judge in
asking that the jury not consider the lesser charge.
Quick appeal denied
The prosecution quickly appealed the judge's acceptance of
Woodward's choice, but a justice on the state's highest court
issued a ruling late Monday afternoon upholding the judge's
Two weeks of conflicting expert medical testimony and two
days of Woodward's own testimony have led many court
observers to suggest that the prosecution has not proven all
elements necessary for a first- or second-degree murder
For a first-degree murder conviction, jurors would have to
say she acted with malice and with either premeditation or
Second-degree murder would require a finding that she
intentionally killed the baby with malice, but without
atrocity or premeditation.
The defense wanted to eliminate the possibility that the
jury, in the absence of evidence to support a murder
conviction, would reach a compromise verdict on the lesser
charge of manslaughter -- defined as a reckless action that
shows disregard for human life.
With Woodward's decision Monday, the jury will not have that
If convicted of first-degree murder, Woodward would be
sentenced to life in prison without parole. A second-degree
murder conviction carries a life sentence, with parole
eligibility in 15 years.
Manslaughter, by comparison, would mean no more than 20 years
in prison and could carry as little as a probationary
sentence, legal experts said.
Therein lies the defense's gamble.
"It's good news if she wins. It's terrible news if she
loses," said Randy Chapman, a defense attorney and former
chairman of the state bar association's Criminal Justice
Section. "You can't get any higher stakes gambling than
Woodward is charged with murder in the death of 8-month-old
Matthew Eappen last February. The prosecution contended the
au pair violently shook the baby and bashed his head against
a hard object, causing a head injury that led to his death.
Earlier Monday, Woodward testified that she did not see a
"goose egg," or wound, to the back of the baby's head in the
days before he died.
The defense has contended that the blood clot, which began to
bleed and eventually killed the baby, was the result of an
Last Thursday, Woodward testified that she never shook the
baby or hit his head against anything.
Woodward admits leaving children unattended
Under questioning from Middlesex District Attorney Gerard
Leone Jr., Woodward said she never told Newton police that
she "threw" the baby on the bed the day she called 911 to
send an emergency crew to tend to him.
"I said I popped him on the bed," said Woodward. "It's just
an English word. ... Popped and laid mean the same thing, at
least to me."
She said that the baby had been cranky that day, had not
eaten as much as usual, and had taken a three-hour nap,
something that was very unusual for him.
The prosecution has contended that Woodward was upset because
her employers, Matthew Eappen's parents, had imposed a
curfew, cramping her lifestyle.
Woodward admitted that she used a fake ID to get into bars,
and she said she went out almost every night.
Woodward also admitted that Sunil Eappen, the baby's father,
was upset when he came in one day and found the children
Woodward said she had gone to the basement to take laundry
from a washer and put it into a dryer.
She said the incident led to a meeting where the Eappens
wrote down terms of her employment and imposed a midnight
curfew, but she denied she feared they were going to fire
Woodward admitted that the Eappens had asked her to limit her
telephone calls to five minutes, but that later she talked
with a friend for two hours during one phone call.
After Woodward left the stand, Dr. Michael Baden, a
pathologist who also testified in the O.J. Simpson case,
returned to the stand to say he had now examined two clearer
photographs of the fracture on Matthew Eappen's skull.
He said both photos showed attempts the body makes to heal
"structures which take several weeks to develop."
Baden had testified last week that the injuries the baby
suffered could not have occurred on the day Woodward called
Reuters contributed to this report.
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