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Louise Woodward – Four pieces of evidence that convinced jury to convict ‘killer nanny’ of ‘shaking baby to death’


THESE are the four pieces of crucial evidence that led a jury to convict “nanny killer” Louise Woodward for the death of baby Matthew Eapenn in 1997.

The Brit Au Pair was initially found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to live in prison but had her conviction was overturned by judge Hiller Zobel.

The prosecution used a number of expert medical witnesses to back up their Shaken Baby Syndrome theory

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The prosecution used a number of expert medical witnesses to back up their Shaken Baby Syndrome theoryCredit: AP:Associated Press
Louise Woodward's behaviour during cross-examination turned many against her

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Louise Woodward’s behaviour during cross-examination turned many against herCredit: Reuters

The shock ruling downgraded the verdict to involuntary manslaughter and saw Woodward freed after spending 289 days behind bars on charges related to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

Now, 25 years on, a new Channel 4 documentary, The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It?, examines what happened on that fateful day in 1997 and what evidence the jury used to originally convict Woodward of murder.

The trial divided opinion across the Atlantic with many in the US convinced Woodward had shook little Matthew to death while supporters in the UK accused her of being an innocent victim caught up in the country’s arcane legal system.

HEAD SCANS

It was on the afternoon of February 4, 1997, that Matthew was rushed to hospital after a panic-stricken Woodward rang for an ambulance, saying he was not breathing.

As he lay in a coma, the young teen was arrested on suspicion of child abuse. When Matthew died five days later, the charges were upped to murder.

At her trial, expert prosecution witnesses claimed Matthew’s injuries, which included a cracked skull displayed the “triad” of symptoms consistent with him being violently shaken and used scans of his brain to back their argument.

One expert, Dr Patrick Barnes, testified this was the “classic model” of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) and dismissed the defence’s argument that the boy’s injuries had been sustained at an earlier date.

Jurors were presented with black and white scans of Matthew’s brain scans throughout the case, which both sides of aisle using it to hammer home their arguments.

The defence famously paraded the scan – which appeared to show an old hairline fracture along Matthew’s skull – around the courtroom to claim he had died from earlier injury that were agitated when Woodward ‘lightly’ shook him.

The argument around shaken baby syndrome has raged on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

Some experts are still adamant that the triad of symptoms exhibited by Matthew — bleeding on the brain, swelling of the brain and bleeding in the eyes — point to deliberate abuse.

But critics have argued that these symptoms could have many other causes, including accidental falls and rare genetic conditions.

EXPERT WITNESS ACCOUNTS

With Matthew’s cause of death ruled as SBS, the outcome of the trial was totally dependent on expert medical opinion and saw both sides call neurosurgeons, radiologists, pathologists and child abuse experts to the stand.

Dr Barnes, an expert witness for the prosecution, gave evidence claiming Matthew’s injuries were caused by excessive and prolonged shaking.

But years after his time in the dock – which saw him infuriate the defence for his evasive testimony – the seasoned doctor recanted his statement.

Dr Barnes tells documentary makers: “I was very strong, that it had to be shaken baby syndrome. I can’t (now) give testimony that would convict Louise Woodward beyond a reasonable doubt. I shouldn’t have done that.”

The court heard Matthew had a 2.5in crack in his skull and that his head had been “violently shaken for a prolonged period”.

Defence lawyers cited the lack of bruises on his arms, abdomen, chest or legs, which would have been there if someone had picked him up to shaken him with force.

Expert witnesses also testified that the lack of fresh bleeding on the brain indicated the skull fracture was an older injury.

Louise told paramedics at the scene that Matthew had been lethargic, had not been eating and had been screaming a lot — all symptoms of a previous injury.

Neurosurgeon Dr Ronald Uscinski, who gave evidence for the defence, said: “What I saw was that the injury was not a fresh injury.

“No matter what they said, it could not have happened on that day. We gave them science and the prosecution gave them hysteria.”

Dr Barnes, who now regrets dismissing the theory of an older injury at Louise’s trial, believes that rigid training around SBS is at fault for previous mistakes.

He says: “My teachers had taught me that shaken baby syndrome produces characteristic findings, the so-called triad. Because we were biased by the triad representing shaken baby syndrome, we would not believe the (other) story.”

British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has been representing parents and carers accused of SBS since 1995, when he successfully appealed the case of a father on death row.

He tells The Sun: “When it comes to shaken baby syndrome there is no science, it is latter-day voodoo.

“It’s based on a 1972 hypothesis by British neurologist Norman Guthkelch, and it was just a hypothesis, with no factual basis on which to prove it.

“Before he died two years ago, he said how horrified he was that his theory had been accepted as fact and sent so many people to prison.”

Clive says bleeds on the brain can be caused by very little trauma — and that the triad theory is “stupid”.

He explains: “If you’re a little infant or a small child of 2ft 6in and you fall off a 3ft height, your head is going to hit the floor at about 15mph, faster than you and I can sprint.

“If you sprint into a wall, you could do serious damage, so to say an infant can’t sustain a fatal head injury from that sort of fall is self-evidently false.”

LOUISE’S OWN ACCOUNT

Lead detective Bill Byrne told the documentary Woodward had admitted to being “frustrated” because Matthew was crying, and claims she said, “Maybe I was a little rough with him”.

British-born lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp took on Louise’s case after concluding she was too small, with “tiny hands”, to do so much damage to a 22lb “butterball of a baby”.

She says: “For this little person to have shaken this big baby with such violence, it didn’t make any sense.” In the run-up to the trial, in October 1997, a huge swell of support in the UK was led by the residents of her home town.

But in the US she was branded a murderer. Prosecutors painted her as an irresponsible teen who liked to party and had a grudge against the Eappens after they insisted on a curfew.

To make matters worse, Woodward’s own apparent aloofness when being cross-examined and the fact she laughed when questioned about Matthew’s death – turned many against her.

She later explained: “I was told not to show any emotion, because the prosecutors were trying to paint me as a volatile person. I wasn’t being aloof, I was just frightened. I was scared and inhibited.”

LOUISE’S LIFESTYLE

Prosecutors were keen to paint the young Au Pair as a reckless teen who liked to party and had a grudge against the Eappens after they insisted on a curfew.

They pushed a theory that the former nanny was more interested in the Boston nightlife than taking care of Matthew and his brother Brandon, who was two at the time, and was annoyed about taking care of a fussy baby.

The prosecution argued she had killed the nine-month-old in a “frustrated, unhappy and resentful rage”.

Woodward admitted the curfew had irritated her but that she would never have taken her rage out on Matthew.

Woodward was just 18 when she travelled to the US on a gap year, eventually working for Debbie and Sunil Eappen, both doctors, as nanny to Brendan, three, and baby Matthew.

She loved the job and apparently doted on the children.

“They were adorable,” she says in a clip from a 2003 interview on TV’s Panorama: “Brendan was very bright and chatty, you could have a conversation with him. And Mattie was a sweet baby, very smiley and playful.”

A still of Matthew's brain scan being held up in court

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A still of Matthew’s brain scan being held up in courtCredit: Reuters
Prosecutors tried to paint Woodward as a 'reckless' teen who had a grudge against the Eappens

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Prosecutors tried to paint Woodward as a ‘reckless’ teen who had a grudge against the EappensCredit: Mercury Press Agency
Young Matthew’s injuries, including a cracked skull, displayed the 'triad' of symptoms said to be consistent with him being violently shaken

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Young Matthew’s injuries, including a cracked skull, displayed the ‘triad’ of symptoms said to be consistent with him being violently shakenCredit: AP:Associated Press
Doctor who testified to help the prosecution send Louise Woodward to jail for murder has changed my mind





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