Au pair lawyers seek lesser charge
Judge says no decision Tuesday
November 4, 1997
Web posted at: 10:31 a.m. EST (1531 GMT)
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Lawyers for Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of murdering a baby in her care, urged a judge on Tuesday to take one of three actions: let Woodward go free, reduce her conviction to manslaughter or order a new trial.
Prosecutors oppose any change, saying that last week's second-degree murder verdict in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen was proper.
After he hears the arguments in person, which were presented in written form on Monday, Judge Hiller Zobel will issue a ruling. But at the start of Tuesday's hearing, he said, "There will be no decision today."
Should the judge side with prosecutors, the 19-year-old Woodward would have to serve a mandatory life sentence, and would not be eligible for parole for 15 years.
In the British media -- and from many Britons -- there have been relentless calls for reconsidering the Woodward verdict. "Have Mercy on Louise," read the headline in one London tabloid.
If manslaughter is substituted, the maximum sentence would be 20 years. But British criminal lawyer Tim Kendal believes Woodward probably would have to serve no more than three years. And, he says, she might even be set free because of the eight months she's already spent in jail since her arrest.
|British criminal defense attorney Tim Kendal describes what might happen if the charges against Woodward are reduced
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Whatever the judge decides, Matthew's parents, Sunil and Deborah Eappen, are suing EF Au Pair, the agency that supplied Woodward. It is one of eight British agencies approved by the U.S. government to send au pairs to America.
EF Au Pair also faces suit in another case where a child died. Kendal says the agency stands to lose either case if it can be shown it didn't provide thorough training for its au pairs or properly evaluate their qualifications
If the murder conviction is allowed to stand, it may still be appealed. Woodward would remain in the United States during that time, which could take up to two years. But under an international treaty, she could end up serving whatever remains of her sentence on British soil.
Correspondent Margaret Lowrie contributed to this report.