Woodward judge honoured for `brave' decision to free convicted nanny

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The Independent Online
Judge Hiller Zobel likes the media, but when he delivered the final coup de theatre in the Louise Woodward trial last month by letting her go, he vowed never to talk about it publicly. He may find the resolution hard to keep.

On Thursday night, the 65-year-old judge found himself under the glare of the lights as he received an unexpected award. It was the Annual Brass Gavel Award given by the Plymouth County Bar Association in Massachusetts.

The award is bestowed on a single judge each year considered to have demonstrated special courage in making a decision on the bench. Three guesses what the tricky decision was in this instance.

It was on 10 November that Judge Zobel stunned the legal world - and giant television audiences on both sides of the Atlantic - by overruling the murder-in-the-second-degree verdict delivered by the jury in the trial of British nanny Louise Woodward ten days earlier. Not only that, but having slashed the verdict to one of manslaughter, Judge Zobel set Woodward free on time already served of 279 days. The murder conviction carried a mandatory sentence of at least 15 years without parole.

"I am honoured and humbled to be here and to feel the warmth of your reception," Judge Zobel told his hosts at the prize ceremony.

"You know, judging is a funny business. You are expected to be perfect the first day on the job and to improve consistently thereafter. And it's true that we have to make difficult decisions."

Who was surely not celebrating the Bar Association's generosity? Debbie and Sunil Eappen, the parents of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen who died while in the care of Woodward last February.