All you need to know about The Trial of Louise Woodward documentary
Tonight (November 11) sees a new ITV current affairs documentary about the trial of Louise Woodward, the 19-year-old British au pair accused of the murder back in the 1990s. Woodward, from Cheshire, was 19 and working as a nanny in the US when she was accused of the murder, by shaking, of nine-month-old baby Matthew Eappen who was in her care. :A Killing in Tiger Bay’s John Actie: ‘I spent two years in jail for a notorious murder I didn’t commit’
At the time the highest-profile court case in the US featuring a British defendant, the trial was played out on television screens across both sides of the Atlantic. This programme, marking 25 years since the 1997 trial, features access to many of the key figures closest to the case, aiming to illuminate each key step of the trial and its aftermath.
What happened in the case?
In 1997, the 19-year-old, from Elton in Cheshire, stood trial for the murder of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen, who died in her care while she was working as a nanny in Massachusetts for parents Deborah and Sunil Eappen. On February 4, 1997 Woodward called an ambulance to the family home after Matthew stopped breathing.
He was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital and put on a life support machine. Woodward was arrested and in court, pleaded not guilty to battery of a child. However, the police alleged that she had admitted shaking the toddler and throwing him onto a pile of towels.
Six days after she called the ambulance for Matthew,he died after suffering a severe brain haemorrhage, and it was finally decided to switch off his life support machine. Prosecutors then announced they would seek a murder indictment.
(Image: Credit: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo)
The trial took place during October 1997 and Woodward drew criticism from the public for appearing cold throughout the highly televised court case. Almost two weeks into the trial she gave her version of events of the night she called the ambulance, reported the BBC at the time.
She described her frantic attempts to revive baby Matthew, she denied shaking him violently, hitting or hurting him. The prosecution countered her version of events calling her “a liar and aspiring actress”. Woodward maintained her innocence throughout the trial and collapsed in tears on October 30 when she was found guilty of second-degree murder – which meant a mandatory life sentence.
Woodward’s mum blasted the verdict as a “horrendous mistake” and it was revealed the jury was split when it came to its decision. The days following her conviction saw protests in the US and at her hometown of Elton. It was also revealed that that the jury had been split about the murder charge.
On November 4, 1997, the case took another dramatic turn with Judge Hiller Zobel hearing a plea from the defence for the murder charge to be reduced to manslaughter, backtracking on the original all-or-nothing strategy. Zobel took an historic approach to making his announcement about the manslaughter conviction by publishing it on the internet, however, a technical problem in the courthouse failed to deliver his judgement over the net. When finally published on November 10, Zobel reduced Ms Woodward’s sentence to involuntary manslaughter.
He also cut the sentence to 279 days, exactly the period of time she already had spent in prison, which meant she was free to go.
Where is Louise now?
As the Liverpool Echo reports, Louise went to study law at London South Bank University after she arrived back in the UK. She graduated with a 2:2 degree in 2002, and began a career at a Manchester law firm. However, she dropped out of the contract to work as a dance teacher.
Woodward moved to Shropshire after she married a truck hire company boss – and has since become a mum.
The Trial of Louise Woodward airs Thursday at 9pm on ITV and ITVHub
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