On This Day: British nanny Louise Woodward freed after murder conviction reduced

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British nanny Louise Woodward demonstrates how she held Matthew Eappen the day he had to be rushed to the hospital as she testifies on her own behalf in her murder trial in a Cambridge, Massachusetts courtroom, October 23.  Woodward is accused of shaking nine month-old Matthew Eappen to death while he was in her care in February 1997.
British nanny Louise Woodward was set free on 10 November 1997 after a successful appeal of her murder conviction, which was reduced to involuntary manslaughter. (Getty)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

It was a trial that dominated the news in the UK, even though it took place in the US.

On this day 24 years ago, British nanny Louise Woodward was allowed to walk free.

The 19-year-old au pair, from the village of Elton, Cheshire, was found guilty of killing eight-month-old baby Matthew Eappen while looking after him for his parents, doctors Sunil and Deborah Eappen, at their home in Newton, Massachusetts. 

Her conviction was reduced on 10 November 1997 from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. 

Britain's nanny Louise Woodward is hugged by her attorneys Andrew Good (L) and Elaine Whitfield-Sharp (R) as she reacts to being found guilty of second degree murder after the verdict was read at her murder trial in a Cambridge, Massachusetts courtroom, October 30. Woodward was convicted of shaking to death nine-month-old Matthew Eappen while he was in her care in February 1997.
Woodward breaks down in tears after being found guilty of second degree murder in October 1997 – her conviction was reduced two weeks later to manslaughter. (PA)
Judge Hiller Zobel addresses the court during British nanny Louise Woodward's murder trial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 16. Judge Zobel turned down a defence motion to dismiss the case after the prosecution finished their case after 1-1/2 weeks of testimony. Woodward is accused of shaking to death nine month-old Matthew Eappen while he was in her care in February 1997.

Judge Hiller Zobel reduced Woodward's sentence to time already served in prison. (Getty)

As a result, her sentence dropped to time served – in her case, 279 days awaiting trial – and she was free to leave prison.

Less than two weeks earlier, a jury had found Woodward guilty of murder, and Judge Hiller Zobel sentenced her to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years. The teenager burst into tears when the verdict was given.

However, reducing the conviction days later, Zobel said he believed Woodward had acted out of “confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense”.


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He added: “I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice.”

Matthew fell into a coma and died on 9 February 1997, five days after being admitted to Children’s Hospital in Boston. He had suffered a fractured skull and subdural haematoma.

The prosecution’s medical witnesses testified in court that his injuries had occurred as a result of violent shaking and from his head hitting a hard surface, but the defence disputed this on the grounds he had no neck injuries.

Louise Woodward addresses members of the media with her lawyer Barry Scheck, before they both spoke at the Edinburgh television festival, August 31.  Woodward, who was found guilty of the manslaughter of a baby in her care in America last year, stated that she felt the presence of television cameras in court added to the pressures on her during the trial. REUTERS/Stringer
Louise Woodward was defended by lawyer Barry Scheck. (Reuters)

The defence presented expert medical evidence that his injury may have happened three weeks before he died.

Woodward’s defence was led by lawyer Barry Scheck, who had been hired by her employer, EF Education First's Cultural Care Au Pair. 

There was speculation that her legal team asked that the jury not be given the option of convicting her of manslaughter as it would help EF Education First avoid a civil lawsuit from the Eappen family.

Following the initial murder verdict, it emerged the jury had been split, but that those in favour of an acquittal had been persuaded to accept a conviction.

One member of the jury said afterwards that none of its members “thought she tried to murder him”.

When Woodward’s conviction was reduced, both sides made appeals – the prosecution at the new verdict, while Woodward’s legal team asked for the manslaughter conviction to be thrown out. Neither side was successful.

Woodward was allowed to return home to the UK.

Former nanny Louise Woodward, convicted of the manslaughter of baby Matthew Eappen in the US, during an interview with the Liverpool Echo today (Wednesday).  See PA Story COURTS Nanny.  Pool Photo by Martin Birchall/PA/Liverpool Echo.
Louise Woodward following her return to the UK. (PA)
 Youngsters pin up a copy of their local paper outside the Rigger pub, in Elton, Cheshire, after an American court announced Louise Woodward's immediate release. See PA story COURTS Nanny. Photo by Bob Collier
The news that Louise Woodward was free to return to the UK was welcomed by people in her home village of Elton, Cheshire. (PA)
Supporters of jailed nanny Louise Woodward gather in her home village of Elton, Cheshire, for a candle light vigil this evening (Monday).  See PA Story COURTS Nanny.  Photo by Dave Kendall/PA
Supporters gather at Louise Woodward's home village of Elton for a candlelight vigil during her trial. (PA)

She was welcomed in her home village with great celebrations from locals, who had always protested her innocence.

Her press conference was broadcast live in both the UK and the US, before she later gave an interview to the BBC’s Martin Bashir, for which she didn’t receive any payment.

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She admitted in the June 1998 interview to “lightly shaking” Matthew after she found him unconscious in an effort to revive him.

Former au pair Louise Woodward  (L) talks to the BBC's Martin Bashir during the recording of an interview for the Panorama current affairs program June 21. Woodward, convicted of the manslaughter of baby Matthew Eappen, gave the interview to the BBC after making it clear she would not seek to profit by selling her story.
Louise Woodward gave an interview to the BBC's Martin Bashir in 1998. (PA)

She said Matthew was “always toppling over” and suggested he could have hit his head the day before he was taken to hospital.

“I know in my heart I did nothing wrong, and the people I love, and the people who know me, know that I'm not capable of that,” she said.

When asked about the Eappens, she said: “I certainly have no love for them.

“They did their very best to get me in prison, I just don't feel there is anything I could say to them that they don't already know.”

20-year-old nanny, Louise Woodward,  who was convicted of the manslaughter of eight-month-old US baby Matthew Eappen,  surrounded by the media at this morning's (Thursday) news conference at Manchester airport, after arriving back from the US.  Photo by Jeff Morris. See PA Story COURTS Nanny.
Louise Woodward was surrounded by the media on her return to the UK at Manchester Airport. (PA)

Woodward went on to study law at London South Bank University and graduated with a 2:2 honours degree in July 2002.

She accepted a training contract with a law firm in Oldham, Greater Manchester, but dropped out to pursue a career as a ballroom dancing teacher.

She is now married and has a daughter.

An upcoming three-part TV documentary on the case, called Louise Woodward: Villain or Victim?, is being produced by Channel 4.

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