Guilty or innocent: Nanny case in jurors' hands
October 28, 1997
Web posted at: 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT)
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The jury Tuesday began deliberating the fate of au pair Louise Woodward after hearing a defense attorney
portray her as a truthful teen, and a
prosecutor describe her in closing arguments as a "little
Woodward, 19, is charged with murdering 8-month-old Matthew
Eappen, purportedly in frustration over the child's fussing
and the demands of her job.
Following closing arguments, Middlesex County Superior Court
Judge Hiller Zobel charged the jury, telling them their job
was to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Woodward's
acts on February 4 killed Eappen.
In his final arguments, defense attorney Barry Scheck argued
that the child died from a previous injury, not in a brutal,
"Have they proven that beyond a reasonable doubt? Not even
close," Scheck said.
Prosecutor Gerard Leone Jr. described Woodward as a "little
aspiring actress" who abused Eappen and killed him. To
attribute the baby's death to anything other than abuse
"defies common sense," he said.
"To believe otherwise, you would need to believe that little
falls kill little kids. To believe otherwise, you would need
to believe that some mystery accident weeks before, and some
mystery trigger causes little kids' heads to explode and they
die. And common sense tells you, ladies and gentlemen, that
doesn't happen," Leone said.
At Woodward's request, jurors will be allowed to consider
only a first-degree or second-degree murder conviction and
not a lesser charge or manslaughter, Zobel ruled Monday.
Based on that, jurors would have to acquit Woodward if they
believe she is guilty only of manslaughter, defined as a
reckless action that shows disregard for human life.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Woodward would face life
in prison without the possibility of parole. She would
become eligible for parole in 15 years if convicted of
Prosecutors say Woodward frustrated
Sunil and Deborah Eappen, both doctors, hired Woodward to
baby-sit their sons in November 1996. The case has attracted
the attention of many couples who rely on hired help to care
for their children.
Prosecutors maintain Woodward mistreated the child because
she was frustrated and angry with the baby's parents, who had
just imposed a curfew to curb her frequent late nights out.
On February 4, they say, she violently shook, then slammed
the boy's head against a hard surface, causing the massive
brain damage that led to his death five days later at
Boston's Children's Hospital.
Police testified that Woodward told them she had roughly
bathed Matthew, dropped him on a ceramic tile floor, then
tossed him onto a bed shortly before calling emergency
workers to the house.
Woodward testified she told police she "popped" the baby onto
the bed after the bath, explaining that was an English way of
saying she had laid him on the bed.
"Popped and laid mean the same thing, at least to me," she
She denied telling police she was rough with Matthew; rather,
she said that in the rush to bathe him and get him into bed,
she may not have been "as gentle as I could have been."
"She told the whole truth, nothing but the truth," said
defense attorney Andrew Good. "If police had listened to
her, maybe we wouldn't be here today."
Medical evidence debated
Scheck cited testimony from world-renowned pathologist Dr.
Michael Baden, who said the infant suffered from serious head
injuries that he believed could be as much as three weeks
"The hard physical evidence raises much more than a
reasonable doubt," Scheck said.
Baden, who testified for the defense at the murder trial of
former football star O.J. Simpson, told the jury that scar
tissue, bone development and cranial bleeding showed an older
wound. Neck and back injuries commonly seen in severely
shaken babies were not found, he said.
"No one knows more about pediatric medicine" than Baden,
Scheck said in his closing argument. "I cannot tell you
exactly what happened; we may never know how this incident
occurred. But the only incident in this case was February 4.
Was there a violent slam, was there a severe shaking? If
it's an old injury -- case closed."
Leone quoted Dr. Joseph Madsen, the Children's Hospital
doctor who performed brain surgery on Matthew, who said the
baby's injuries had caused his head to swell "like a loaf of
bread rising in an oven."
"This was not an old wound," Leone said the doctor told him.
"This was fresh."
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