Nanny's lawyer moves to quash murder charge

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The Independent Online
A defence lawyer for Louise Woodward, the British nanny accused of killing a nine-month-old baby in her care in the United States, told a court here yesterday that he will try to overturn a first-degree murder charge brought against his client earlier this week.

At a pre-trial hearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ms Woodward, 19, pleaded innocent to the first-degree charge in the death of the boy, Mat- thew Eappen. Looking composed throughout the 25- minute hearing, the defendant answered the charge with a soft-spoken, "not guilty".

Only a few feet behind her in the public gallery, was the dead child's mother, Deborath Eappen. Wearing a small badge on her blazer lapel with a photograph of her lost son, Mrs Eappen appeared several moments to be fighting her emotions as first jousts were traded by the defence and prosecution.

There was no discussion of bail yesterday, although the judge, Heller Zobel, asserted that the bail question remained open. It was not clear whether the Woodward family, from Chester, had yet been able to raise the bail previously set at $100,000 (pounds 62,000).

Ms Woodwrd came to the US in June to work as an au pair after taking her A-levels and began caring for two children of Mr and Mrs Eappen, both doctors, in November. She was arrested on 5 February after the youngest, Matthew, was admitted to hospital suffering "shaken baby syndrome". He died after five days on life support.

An autoposy report also revealed a two-and-a-half-inch scar fracture. Ms Woodward has told police that she gently shook the child while bathing him and may have tossed him into some towels on the floor.

The defence team, led by Andrew Good, focused instantly on the first- degree murder charge that was handed down by the Massachusets Grand Jury last Wednesday. The charge is the severest possible and carries the threat of a mandatory life sentence without possibility of bail if Ms Woodward is convicted.

Mr Good intimated that he would seek to have the jury's decision overturned even before the trial begins on the grounds that initial evidence given to it was one-sided in favour of the prosecution.

He noticed in particular a statement by the prosecution to the Grand Jury equating head wounds on the victim with those of somebody dropped from a second floor window. This was not corroborated, he said, by the autoposy report that showed no external trauma to the head.

Judge Zobel provisionally set 14 July as the date for the formal trial of Ms Woodward.

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