Father breaks down as he recounts Matthew's last hours

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The Independent Online
The pain of parents who have lost a young child was once more on full and gut-wrenching display yesterday in the Boston court room where the British nanny, Louise Woodward, is on trial for first degree murder. David Usborne watched as the father of the deceased child, Matthew Eappen, broke down on the stand.

Proceedings at the trial in Boston of the British nanny on trial for murder, Louise Woodward, were again shot through with awful and unremittingly compelling personal anguish yesterday when the father of the dead child in the case came to the stand to describe the last hours of his son's life.

Dr Sunil Eappen an anaesthetist, was brought before the jury yesterday by the prosecution who are contending that his child, Matthew Eappen, was fatally assaulted on 4 February by Ms Woodward, who had been working as the family nanny since last November. Ms Woodward is accused of violently shaking Matthew and slamming his head against a hard surface.

Echoing much of what his wife, Dr Deborah Eappen, had told the court on Wednesday, Sunil Eappen rehearsed problems he said he and his wife had had with Ms Woodward, notably her late nights, her tardiness in starting work in the mornings and frequent occasions when she allegedly left eight- month-old Matthew and his two-year-old brother, Brendan, unattended.

In moments that drained everyone in the courtroom, Doctor Eappen went on to describe being called by his wife on the evening of 4 February about Matthew's collapse and rushing to the Boston Children's Hospital, arriving there just as the ambulance bearing his son drew up.

With tears welling in his eyes and soon streaming down his cheeks, Dr Eappen said he saw Matthew laying on a stretcher being given artificial respiration. "He looked fine, other then the fact that he wasn't breathing," he started. Then the doctor broke down completely after relating: "I was just praying as hard as I could that everything would be okay."

Like his wife, the doctor also related the moments in the early hours of 9 February, when, with all the family gathered as well as a priest, Matthew's ventilator was turned off. There was utter stillness in the courtroom as he concluded: "Matthew died while I was holding him."

Earlier in his testimony, Dr Eappen described a confrontation with Louise the previous Tuesday when he had returned home from work early to find Matthew lying unattended on the dining room floor. He said he deliberately waited a full five minutes before calling for Louise, who was doing laundry in the basement.

"I wanted to wait longer but I was getting more and more angry," he said. When Louise appeared, he went on, she looked him in the eye and said she had been out of the room for only one minute. Clearly implying that she was lying, Dr Eappen said: "She absolutely insisted that it had been less then a minute."

The prosecution counsel brought out their key witness, Kathleen Sorabella. But Ms Sorabella floundered under defence cross examination. Claiming to have met Ms Woodward last year, she said the teenage nanny told her at that time that she hated the family she worked for. She claimed Ms Woodward said that the youngest of the children in her care, the infant she is accused of killing, was 'fussy" and a "brat".

Ms Sorabella, 30, recounted meeting Ms Woodward in a queue for the musical Rent in Boston last winter. She said the encounter took place a few weeks after Ms Woodward began working for the Eappens.

Ms Sorabella claimed Ms Woodward complained that the children were "spoiled, that they were fussy, that the baby was fussy all the time", and that the baby was a "brat".

Defence lawyers for Ms Woodward, however, entered into evidence documents aimed at discrediting Ms Sorabella as a witness. They produced papers for a car credit application signed by Ms Sorabella earlier this year demonstrating that she had been untruthful about her earnings and her education record and that she had concealed a bankruptcy of several years ago.

"I hope all the rest of their witnesses are like that," an apparently relieved Gary Woodward, the father of Louise, remarked outside the court after Ms Sorabella's testimony.

Louise's mother, Susan Woodward, expects to be the first witness called to the stand when the defence begins its case, perhaps as early as today.

The examination and cross-examination of Ms Sorabella revealed a fascination shared by her and Ms Woodward with the Boston production of Rent. Ms Sorabella conceded she had seen the show 40 times, once even sleeping out overnight to get tickets.

The court also heard that Ms Woodward similarly saw the show many times and had apparently struck up social contacts with some members of the cast.