Woodward judges consider re-trial

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IN A MANOEUVRE that could further delay a resolution of the Louise Woodward murder case, her defence team has again challenged the results of the post-mortem performed on baby Matthew Eappen.

A motion filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court demands the release of information about the professional history of the coroner who conducted the examination, Dr Gerald Feigin. He resigned from the medical examiner's office in May and is now working in New Jersey.

Dr Feigin is under a cloud because of revelations that he may have bungled an earlier manslaughter case, in which a teacher died after being assaulted by a student. New evidence suggests the crime was labelled as manslaughter incorrectly. The charges against the boy are under review.

Dr Feigin ruled that the teacher, David McHugh, had died from the blows. Subsequently, another examiner ascertained that the teacher had had a heart condition that could have caused his death.

The testimony of Dr Feigin in Woodward's 1997 trial was pivotal to the prosecution's contention that Matthew Eappen died because of a two-and- a-half-inch skull fracture caused by shaking and battering inflicted by the defendant. The defence contends that the injury, which led to a coma and finally death, was weeks old.

In its motion, the defence argues that had they been conducted on the boy, similar microscopic tests would have uncovered information to exonerate Woodward. It asks the court to release all information regarding the McHugh case and seeks clarification on the circumstances of Dr Feigin's resignation.

Woodward was convicted of second-degree murder last October but two weeks later the judge reduced the verdict to manslaughter and freed her because of the 279 days she had already served.

It is unclear how the Court will respond to this latest motion. Seven Supreme Justices have been weighing appeals in the case since a hearing in early March and had been expected to rule in the next few weeks. An option would be to call for a re-trial. The prosecution, however, argued that the motion was not valid, saying that it amounted only to a re-hash of concerns expressed by the defence about Dr Feigin at the time of the appeal.

The Office of the Chief Medical Officer contended that there was no connection between the Woodward trial and the case of Mr McHugh.