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Thursday, April 2, 1998 Published at 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK

Judge's U-turn freed Louise Woodward

Louise Woodward breaking down as she hears the guilty verdict

When Louise Woodward was jailed for life for second degree murder in October 1997 she faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

She broke down in tears and sobbed: "I didn't do it. I didn't hurt Matty".

[ image: Judge Hiller Zobel: controversial judge who overtuned the murder verdict]
Judge Hiller Zobel: controversial judge who overtuned the murder verdict
Afterwards her mother said: "They have made a horrendous mistake and they need to put it right."

Judge Hiller Zobel seemed to agree. Only days after sending Woodward to jail for life he had turned from villain to hero among her supporters in the village of Elton, Cheshire.

In the days following the decision it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, with most preferring a manslaughter charge which was not available to them. On the advice of her lawyers, Woodward had opted for an "all-or-nothing" verdict, meaning the only available choices for the jury were conviction or acquittal.

[ image: Supporters of Louise Woodward in Britain watch a live broadcast of the verdict being read out]
Supporters of Louise Woodward in Britain watch a live broadcast of the verdict being read out
One juror said "no one thought she tried to murder him".

On November 4 Judge Zobel heard a plea from the defence for the murder charge to be reduced to manslaughter, backtracking on the original all-or-nothing strategy.

Internet decision

He made the historic decision to post his judgement on the Internet, a move which made history for the wrong reasons after a technical problem in the courthouse failed to deliver his judgement over the Net.

His all-important judgement, published on November 10, reduced Woodward's sentence to involuntary manslaughter. The judge cut the sentence to 279 days, exactly the period of time she already had spent in prison, which meant she was free to go.

Judge Zobel said his decision was not meant to denigrate the death of Matthew Eappen, but he said he had taken into account all the circumstances in coming to the "proper sentence".

Louise Woodward was ordered to remain in Massachusetts until her appeal, and the prosecution's appeal against the manslaughter charge, has been heard.

Her lawyers claimed she was innocent of all charges while the state prosecutors wanted Judge Zobel's decision to be overturned to allow the original murder conviction to stand.

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Internet Links

Louise Woodward: Massachusetts press reaction

Louise Woodward Campaign for Justice

International Au Pair Association

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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