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S P E C I A L The Au Pair Trial

British au pair chooses 'all or nothing' verdict

Woodward

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 infant.

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 wishes.

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 convicted.

"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 decision.

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 conviction.

For a first-degree murder conviction, jurors would have to say she acted with malice and with either premeditation or extreme cruelty.

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 alternative.

High stakes

Matthew Eappen

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 that."

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 earlier injury.

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 unattended.

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 her.

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 911.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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