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Saturday, November 8, 1997 Published at 12:15 GMT


Woodward verdict sways Massachusetts death penalty vote
image: [ Campaigners protest outside the state house in Boston ]
Campaigners protest outside the state house in Boston

The case of the British au pair Louise Woodward has unexpectedly caused the Massachusetts legislature to vote against bringing back the death penalty.

Representatives voted 80-80 on the issue when a legislator changed his mind at the last minute because of Miss Woodward's conviction.

[ image: John Slattery]
John Slattery
The tied ballot means the death penalty will not be reimposed in the state.

Democrat John Slattery said: "I don't want to be the one lying in bed some night wondering if the wrong person is being put to death."

Support for the death penalty had grown in Massachusetts after a spate of vicious murders.

The Woodward case appears to have had the opposite effect.

"People disagreed dramatically with how the jury handled it," Mr Slattery said.

"I don't know whether it was right or wrong, but I know it's had a profound effect on my constituents."

He added: "People say Louise Woodward would not be sentenced to death by any jury. But the timing of the case is ironic. Most of my constituents think she was wrongly convicted.

"Who knows? Mistakes can be made."

[ image: Massachusetts Governor Paul Celluci]
Massachusetts Governor Paul Celluci
But the Governor of Massachusetts, Paul Celluci, was angered by Mr Slattery's stance. "Slattery voted for the death penalty two years ago," he said.

"Last week, he was up pounding his fists in support of the death penalty. He was not one of the people on the list of wavering or having concerns about the bill and all of a sudden he has an epiphany. I don't buy it."

Miss Woodward was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in jail after being convicted of second-degree murder by a jury of 15 people.

The prosecution alleged she knowingly killed eight-month-old Matthew Eappen by shaking him and banging his head against a hard surface.

The trial judge, Hiller Zobel, is considering whether to confirm, reduce or commute the sentence.

Massachusetts would have become the 39th American state to adopt the death penalty, but for Mr Slattery's last minute decision.

New Woodward Web site

A special website has been created to handle the intense Internet interest in Miss Woodward's case, boosted by Judge Zobel's decision to make his verdict known through the medium.

Web designers are working with Miss Woodward's supporters in her hometown of Elton in England to create a site capable of handling the number of hits likely when the verdict is released.

Designer Julia Hardy said: "This will be one of the biggest Websites ever created in the UK and it has been created in four hours, which is amazing. What it means is that it has increased the ability to handle traffic by over 1000%.

"We didn't even know if this was possible. The interest has been so great that the other Websites will not be able to handle it, but now members of the public will be able to use this site.

"It will allow us to get the information out as quickly as possible and to the most number of people."

The site becomes active on Monday morning. The address is:

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage

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