Au pair guilty in baby-shaking death
October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST (0240 GMT)
In this story:
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- British au pair Louise Woodward was convicted of
second-degree murder Thursday in the death of an
8-month-old infant in her care.
Woodward faces a prison term with the chance for parole
after 15 years.
Prosecutors maintained that Woodward, 19, violently shook
Matthew Eappen and then slammed the baby's head against a
hard surface at his family's Newton, Massachusetts, home on
February 4, causing the massive brain damage that led to his
death five days later at a Boston hospital.
She was accused of acting in frustration over the child's
fussing and the demands of her job.
At Woodward's request, jurors were allowed to consider only
first-degree or second-degree murder conviction and not a
lesser charge of manslaughter, defined as a reckless action
that shows disregard for human life.
To convict Woodward of first-degree murder, jurors were
required to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime
was committed with extreme cruelty.
To convict Woodward of second-degree murder, the jury found that she intentionally killed the baby with malice, but without atrocity or premeditation.
Woodward spent two days on the witness stand denying charges
that she ever shook or hit Matthew.
The British teen-ager -- the only one to know what happened
before the boy was rushed to the hospital -- described her
panic when the infant woke from a nap, gasping for breath
with his eyes half-closed.
Woodward said she shook him gently to try to revive him. And
she testified that Matthew may have hit his head the day
before, when he fell near the steps of his playroom.
She calmly defended herself as Middlesex County District
Attorney Gerard Leone Jr. pounded away about her late hours
and other behavior that prompted the boy's parents, Sunil and
Deborah Eappen, to give her an ultimatum to shape up.
Woodward said Sunil Eappen returned one day to find Matthew
and his 2 1/2-year-old brother unattended while she did the
laundry. "He was a bit unhappy, yeah," the teen recalled.
Leone's cross-examination also revealed a young woman who
chatted on the phone, went out with her friends and lied
about her age to get into bars.
Before leaving the witness stand, Woodward denied that she
told police the day the boy was hospitalized that she had
dropped Matthew on a bed or on the bathroom floor.
"No, I said I popped him on the bed," Woodward told the
prosecutor. "That's just an English word." She said "popped"
and "laid" meant the same to her.
A police officer testified that Woodward said she was rough
with the child and dropped him twice that day. She said the
officers brought up the term "rough," not her.
Woodward also testified that she enjoyed her job, describing
reading and singing to Matthew and his brother. She admitted
the job's demands often frustrated her, but said she did
nothing to hurt the child.
Both the defense and prosecution tried to bolster their cases
by calling several medical experts as witnesses. Defense
witnesses said the baby's injuries were as much as three
weeks old and were caused by something other than shaking and
Their conclusions conflicted with those of prosecution
witnesses, including Eli Newberger, a child-abuse expert who
examined Matthew at the hospital and concluded he had
suffered 60 seconds of shaking that caused his brain to
"smash back and forth within his skull."
The final injury, Newberger told police, was a "severe
traumatic impact against a hard surface."
The trial prompted criticism of the Eappens, both of whom are
doctors. Callers to Boston radio talk shows accused them of
putting their careers ahead of their children by hiring
inexpensive child care.
Woodward, from Elton, England, a suburb of Liverpool, cared
for the children and did household chores for $115 a week. A
nanny, a full-time professional, would earn considerably
The case also has captured public attention in Britain, where
it has been broadcast on television. Many young British
women, as well as women from other European countries, come
to the United States to work as au pairs.
An au pair is an employee who exchanges services such as
caring for children in return for room and board. The French
term means "as an equal."