Judge sets March deadline for all Louise appeals

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The Independent Online
Lawyers for Louise Woodward (pictured in court) may seek permission for her to be allowed back to England for Christmas after the highest court in Massachusetts declined yesterday to grant a prosecution request that she be returned to prison.

"Obviously we would prefer to see Louise have an opportunity to go home for the holidays," Andrew Good, a member of her defence team, said after the hearing at the Supreme Judicial Court in Boston. "We may appeal to the courts for leave for Louise to use her passport".

In a hearing that lasted barely two minutes, Justice Ruth Abrams pledged that criminal proceedings in the nanny trial would be concluded once and for all in March when the full court of seven justices will rule on all appeals issues pending in the case. Normally, such an appeals process would take at least a year.

Before Justice Abrams yesterday was a prosecution request for a stay of the extraordinary rulings issued by Woodward's trial judge, Hiller Zobel, three weeks ago when he reduced her guilty verdict in the death of Matthew Eappen from second-degree murder to one of manslaughter and set her free.

Had the stay been granted, Woodward would have found herself instantly returned to prison. It was deferred by Justice Abrams for consideration in March alongside the formal appeals expected from both sides. While the prosecution wants the second-degree murder verdict reinstated, the defence will be seeking a dismissal of the manslaughter conviction and final vindication for Woodward.

Meanwhile, it may be possible for her lawyers to win permission from Judge Zobel for temporary access to her passport at least to leave the state for Christmas. Woodward is currently lodging at the home of Elaine Whitfield Sharp, also on the defence team, in a seaside suburb north of Boston. Both her parents have returned to England. Friends said she was filling her time trying to make friends, reading supporters' letters and going to a local gym.