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Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK


Profile: Louise Woodward

Louise Woodward in the Cambridge court


The BBC's Philippa Thomas in Boston looks back on events before today's ruling by the US Supreme Court.
The gasps, the tears and the near hysteria in the Cheshire village of Elton on the day Louise Woodward was found guilty showed a whole community's disbelief that she could be capable of murder.

But to a Boston jury, Woodward was responsible for the death of eight-month old Matthew Eappen, whom she was looking after in her job as an au pair in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Growing up
[ image: Louise's parents, supporting her in court]
Louise's parents, supporting her in court
Woodward grew up in a stable and loving home. Her mother, Susan, worked at the local college, and her father was a carpenter. Woodward and her younger sister, Victoria, were only a year apart in age and there was also a large, close-knit extended family.

She regularly attended church with her family, helping out with the children at the local Sunday School, and at weekends, she worked at a record store in Chester. Friends and family describe her as a calm, friendly and idealistic teenager.

The decision to go abroad

Following her A-levels at the local Helsby High School, Woodward was unsure of her future, so took a year off before deciding on college.


[ image: Louise pleads her innocence]
Louise pleads her innocence
Relatives say that because she loved kids and was fascinated by America, she applied for a position with EF Au Pairs in Massachusetts.

By late summer 1996, Woodward was working for the Komishane family in Manchester-by-the-Sea, 30 miles north of Boston, looking after their eight-month old baby.

But things were not quite as she expected. Her employers, Harris and Lauren Komishane, lived in a secluded area far from the city. They also gave Woodward an 11pm curfew on weekdays, leaving her only the weekends to visit Boston.

She was keen to meet more young Americans, to go out in the city - and to have more of an adventure.

Moving in with the Eappens

The au pair agency gave Woodward details of other families in the area and in November 1996, she met Sunil and Deborah Eappen for lunch. They liked each other immediately. Mrs Eappen noted the way Woodward went straight over to pick up six-month-old baby Matthew and was keen to hire her.


[ image: The Eappen liked Louise from their first meeting]
The Eappen liked Louise from their first meeting
But at the Eappens, Woodward found the work tough-going. In addition to looking after toddler Brendan, she was in charge of baby Matthew during the day and was sometimes expected to cook the evening meal. The Eappens had been so eager to have Woodward that they agreed not to impose a curfew during the week.

In her spare time, Woodward went out frequently, meeting new people, eating in fast food cafes, sometimes going to bars using fake identification - the legal age for drinking in Massachusetts is 21. A theatre lover, she went to see the musical Rent at least 20 times, accompanied by her good friend, fellow au pair, Ruhanna Austin.

Deborah Eappen had complained to Woodward on several occasions for neglecting her duties, in particular for leaving the children unsupervised. On 30th January 1997, she laid down new guidelines, one of which read: "We expect you to be honest in your dealings with us and that your primary goal while working is the safety and wellbeing of our kids."

The death of baby Matthew

The events of February 4, less than a week later, led to the jury finding that Woodward had broken that rule. That morning, the court found, Woodward became so frustrated and impatient by Matthew's crying, she shook him violently and then bashed his head.


[ image: Baby Matthew Eappen]
Baby Matthew Eappen
Hours later in hospital, Matthew died, with his parents, grandparents and two-year old brother at his bedside. X-rays showed that the baby's injuries had been caused by sustained violent shaking and a blow to the head, which had resulted in a skull fracture and bleeding behind the eyes.

Shortly after, police arrived at the Eappen's home to arrest Woodward on charges of assault and battery. The ultimate charge against her was first degree murder, to which she pleaded not guilty.


[ image: Some tabloids strongly supported the campaign]
Some tabloids strongly supported the campaign
The jury found Woodward guilty of second degree murder, much to the amazement of her supporters back home in Elton. They started a massive campaign to free Louise Woodward with much of the village pitching in. Their efforts received much support from the British public and the media, and donations poured in to the tune of 200,000.

Amid this public outcry, which took place on both sides of the Atlantic, Judge Hiller Zobel overturned the verdict, finding Woodward guilty of manslaughter. He sentenced her to the time she had already served, in effect releasing her immediately.

Life after the trial

Following her release, Woodward was required to remain in Boston until after the appeal. With her parents remaining with her, she moved in with one of her lawyers who lived in a small Boston fishing village.

Although seen in the days after the trial out shopping with her parents and sporting a new hairstyle, Woodward kept a low profile. Despite being pursued by the British tabloids for her story, she and her parents have appeared only once on British television in a documentary screened before the appeal hearing.

Woodward did however have opportunity to write a review of her beloved Rent for Esquire magazine. She wrote: "You don't have to be gay or know someone who suffers from Aids to appreciate [Rent]. The ultimate message of the show is to captured in the last line 'No day but today', meaning literally that we should live each day as though it is our last."


[ image: Judge Hillier Zobel]
Judge Hillier Zobel
In the documentary, Woodward maintained she did not harm baby Matthew Eappen and talked about her fears of having to return to prison.

But the Eappens have remained convinced that she was resonsible for Matthew's death.



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In this section

Woodward lied on TV, says baby's uncle

'Absolute child abuse' says Woodward detective

Panorama - Louise Woodward's exclusive interview

Woodwards cash in

If parents didn't do it, who did? - Woodward

Parents go back to court

US press slam Woodward

It's easier for Louise - baby's uncle

Louise's Panorama interview: What do you think?

Press restrained over Woodward's release