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Louise Woodward Trial: 1997

Family Warning, Deadly Fall?, Defendant Stays Cool, Prosecution Switch

Defendant: Louise Woodward
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Barry Scheck, Andrew Good, and Harvey Silverglate
Chief Prosecutors: Gerard Leone, Jr. and Martha Coakley
Judge: Hiller Zobel
Place: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dates of Trial: October 7-31, 1997
Verdict: Guilty of second-degree murder (later reduced to involuntary manslaughter)
Sentence: Life imprisonment (later reduced to time served)

SIGNIFICANCE: This was a sensational trial, followed intently on both sides of the Atlantic, that employed a landmark use of modern technology—the Internet—to reveal the outcome.

On February 4, 1997, teenaged nanny Louise Woodward called 911 and said that the eight-month-old baby she was tending, Matthew Eappen, was having difficulty breathing. When paramedics arrived at the Eappen household in the Boston suburb of Newton, they found the baby had suffered a head injury and his eyes were bulging, a possible sign of "shaken-baby syndrome." After four days in intensive care, Matthew died. Louise, working in America but British by birth, had already been accused of assault, but was now charged with first-degree murder.

When the trial opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 7, 1997, the defendant's age, nationality, and the crime she was charged with generated headline media coverage. Back in her hometown of Elton, England, Louise's supporters gathered in a pub to watch the proceedings on TV. They listened as chief prosecutor Gerard Leone, Jr. described her as being more interested in enjoying Boston nightlife than providing proper care for the Eappen children, two-year-old Brendan and infant Matthew.

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