Louise's fate lies in a judge's conscience

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The Independent Online
The fate of Louise Woodward rests with Judge Hiller Zobel.

So did the disappearance of key evidence, and its strange reappearance almost at trial's end, hamper her defence? The judge will sleep on it perhaps for many nights. His final decision will be posted on the Internet and David Usborne, along with many millions, will be waiting.

Pleading before the court for sentencing relief for their client, defence lawyers for Louise Woodward said yesterday that they had been put at a grave disadvantage at trial because key autopsy photographs of the skull of the victim, Matthew Eappen, had not been made available until almost the last moment.

Shockingly, the lead lawyer for Ms Woodward, Barry Scheck, went on to suggest that, had they had access to the pictures earlier, the defence might not have taken the controversial decision to put Ms Woodward on the stand to assert her own innocence. This may imply regret amongst the lawyers about her testimony.

In a post-verdict hearing in the courtroom where Ms Woodward was found guilty nearly a week ago, Mr Scheck urged Judge Hiller Zobel to call a re-trial principally because of the photographs. "I leave it to your conscience, your honour," Mr Scheck finished.

Found at the back of a cupboard in the Medical Examiner's office and submitted to the trial after Ms Woodward's appearance, the pictures appear to support the crux of the defence case that the head impact that killed Matthew did not happen on 4 February, as alleged, but up to three weeks earlier.

Judge Zobel could throw out the verdict and declare an acquittal, call a new trial, or reduce Ms Woodward's conviction to one of manslaughter with a much lower sentence. Or, of course, he could let the decision of the 12-person jury stand. His tensely awaited decision will be posted on the Internet, not announced in court, and could come today. If not, it is likely to be early next week.

As expected, the defence pushed at all three doors yesterday, including the option of a manslaughter conviction. To shape the evidence as heard by the jury to fit that charge, the defence said it was ready to accept that Ms Woodward may have inflicted some "trivial" trauma on Matthew on 4 February that triggered a re-bleed of the brain clot which it says was caused three weeks before.

The prosecution, however, urged the judge to deny all three motions. "You should not try to substitute your judgment for the judgment of the jury," the lead prosecutor, Gerard Leone, told the judge, adding that it would be wrong also to attempt to play the role of the "thirteenth juror".

Mr Leone also stressed that the defence made its own bed when it elected before the trial's end to withhold from the jury manslaughter as an option for conviction, leaving it only with murder or not guilty.

While expectations seemed to be rising that some action would be taken by Judge Zobel to mitigate the plight of Ms Woodward, it was unclear what route he would take or whether the defence had given him sufficient information to overturn the status quo.

Agonising wait, page 3

Suzanne Moore, page 21