It was the bailiffs, in their white shirts and black trousers standing in a line, backs to the court chamber and facing the public gallery, who gave us the almost telepathic warning. Like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, they wore faces as impassive as they were expressive. They knew, I could feel it. They knew it was going to be guilty. And they knew it would be wrong, unjust, cruel in the extreme.
Trials are slow affairs - this one took almost a month - but the moment of revelation came with startling speed. It was only minutes before the envelope was passed from the jury to the judge and the Clerk of the Court invited the foreperson to state how the defendant had been found. Guilty. Guilty of what? Guilty of murder in the second degree.
The shock permeated your every cell, right into the bone marrow. A silent shock, no one was at liberty in this most grave of moments to utter anything. All of us at once took a giant breath - a great intake of oxygen to fuel our disbelief. The judge is thanking the jury, sympathising with the pain it must have gone through, but it is hard to pay attention. And Louise Woodward is standing and calm.
It is only as Judge Hiller Zobel, a normally chipper figure full of dry wit who now looks simply ashen and hollowed of all humour, is finishing his piece that the bawling begins. Great gasps of anguish.
What we are hearing, of course, is the child that Louise Woodward had hitherto managed to hide. A small, defenceless, terrified, child crying for all her life. Because her life has suddenly been taken away just at the moment she thought she was going to be given it back. And this was not meant to be happening.
She cries in great convulsions. I feel a brief shot of satisfaction that this is beginning just before the jurors get to leave. They should hear this. They have done this to her and they should not leave thinking she is composed. Because it is the bawling of an innocent person, wronged. A guilty person would sag, not scream out. "I didn't do it. I didn't do anything ... I didn't hurt Matty. I didn't do anything", she cried. And Louise looked straight at them as she implored: "How can they do this to me ... I'm only 19".
She does not look at her mother and father, Susan and Gary Woodward, who are next to me and behind the barrier that cuts the chamber in two. I catch Susan mouthing "unbelievable" to Gary but otherwise they are quiet, glazed. In fact, Susan looks catatonic. When the judge leaves for a few minutes and the officers call "All rise", Susan and Gary remain seated. A protest against a justice system that has done their child wrong? More probably they could not, physically, stand.
Behind Gary and Susan, other Woodward family members weep. The rest of us - the media who had been waiting likewise through deliberations that lasted 27 hours, remain frozen. I am glancing towards the Woodwards because it is my job to record their reaction. But I feel dirty doing so.
How ridiculous all our planning of the past few days seems now - how we were going to break away from the courthouse as soon as possible to tail the Woodwards. We had thought that their happiness, their relief, their departure for home or for a holiday with their daughter, was going to be our story of the night. Now, trying to ambush them for reaction seemed absurdly inappropriate. They would be left alone.
In a few minutes, Louise had been calmed. Andrew Good, perhaps the most sympathetic of her defence lawyers, held her, ran his hands through her hair. "Sssh", he said repeatedly. Barry Scheck, his colleague, hung slightly to one side. He could not move, he said later.
Then the judge was back, still looking pale. It was he who three days earlier had agreed to allow this girl to take the gamble that now looked so appallingly mistaken, to ask the jury to consider only the options of Murder One and Two, and acquittal.
When the judge asks for objections to his proposal that sentencing be delayed until the morning, there are none. And so he orders the bailiffs remove Louise from the courtroom. The women among them gather gradually around the defence table and calmly she is led to a door at the back of the court and her parents go with them. They are allowed a few moments with their daughter in a room elsewhere in the building. It is only a few more minutes, however, before she is taken to the ground floor and the sheriff's van waiting outside.
She is not going home, but to incarceration. Incarceration, she must feel, for eternity.Reuse content