Woodward Case: The fight goes on - Prosecution and defence prepare appe als

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The Independent Online
Louise Woodward yesterday enjoyed her first day as a free woman for nine months. But her freedom is not yet complete. As David Usborne explains, there remains a long and windy path ahead as both sides in the case launch their respective appeals.

Lest anyone gets carried away: the Woodward trial may be over, but the case is still open. This morning, both sides are expected to file their respective appeals to the Massachusetts state court and a new drama will be opened. It is a process that leaves Woodward in a kind of legal - and continental - limbo.

And it may not be over quickly. While the procedures of the state appeals court, based in downtown Boston, can on occasion be mercurial, if this case joins the normal queue and is forced to wait its turn, both appeals are likely to take a year.

For Woodward and her family, this is depressing news. Unless negotiations are arranged between both sides to alter it, the decision of the court on Monday was that she will have to stay in Massachusetts throughout the appeal process with her passport confiscated from her. In that scenario, headlines that have Woodward home for Christmas are over-optimistic. Unless we are talking Christmas 1998.

While members of Woodward's defence team refused yesterday to speculate on their strategy, the prosecution camp was leaving no one in doubt of its determination to push at every appeals door that is open to it. "This is not a decided case," insisted Martha Coakley, the co-prosecutor during the trial. As a first step, the prosecution is likely to demand a stay of the two dramatic decisions announced by Judge Zobel - the reduction of the verdict on Woodward from Murder Two to manslaughter and the passing of the minimal, time-served sentence. If it were to succeed, the stay would entail Woodward being sent straight back to the Framingham prison she has become so familiar with. Even prosecution sources admitted yesterday, however, that the tactic was a long-shot and almost doomed to failure.

Then there will be the prosecution's appeal proper. Of the outcome of Monday's events, Ms Coakley said that the sentence especially was "totally out of proportion, even with the judge's own finding that Louise killed this child".

The appeal, however, cannot be aimed at the sentence but only at the changing of the verdict. Here too, however, the prosecution lawyers face an uphill struggle, if only because it was they, at trial, that tried to force Judge Zobel to keep manslaughter as an option for the jury when it retired to consider Woodward's fate.

The defence, meanwhile, is expected to clarify its appeal approach either today or later this week. What seems certain is that it will attempt to overturn the manslaughter verdict and have Louise acquitted and her name cleared. This too, however, seems like a tall order.

There is also another option. In its motions to Judge Zobel post-trial, the defence asked for a re-trial on the grounds that the first trial was prejudiced on various counts, including by the late disclosure of important photographic evidence. It could appeal Judge Zobel's denial of a new trial. It is doubtful, however, whether the defence would be ready to go to a retrial.