Woodward's lawyers admit her lesser guilt

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When she was sentenced to life last week, Louise Woodward said to the court: "I would just like to maintain my innocence". But the defence yesterday conceded that she could be guilty of manslaughter, if not of murder. Our correspondent watched the wretched drama unfold.

As the campaign to have Louise Woodward absolved of her Murder Two conviction reached a crescendo on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday, she was forced to admit, at least by implication if not actual confession, to guilt to the lesser, but still grievous crime, of the manslaughter of baby Matthew Eappen.

In one more day of extraordinary anguish in Cambridge, Massachusetts when almost 100 free-Louise demonstrators marched around the courthouse, it emerged that Woodward's defence team was submitting a motion to Judge Hiller Zobel for a reduced charge of manslaughter. It also came to light that when the jurors began deliberations last week, a majority believed she was innocent. By a painful, and by all accounts highly irregular process, that majority for innocence was transformed over 27 hours into consensus for guilt.

The defence, in documents submitted to the court last night, asked for the verdict to be set aside and the alternative of a new trial. But crucially, Woodward "further moved, without in any way waiving her claim that the evidence is insufficient to support conviction of any sense, to enter a finding of guilty on the lesser included offence of manslaughter."

Significantly, however, the prosecution team signalled that it would not fight the lesser manslaughter charge in arguments before Judge Zobel today. Of the manslaughter option, Gerard Leone, the lead prosecutor at the trial, said: "We would be reasonable." He went on: "We will listen to anything that is placed before us."

Senior court officials told The Independent yesterday, that Judge Zobel, if he were to agree to such a motion, would simply declare the Murder Two conviction downgraded to manslaughter. A final decision will almost certainly not be offered by the Judge today, who has indicated he would rather take time to consider the issues and put his final decision in writing. If he does declare a manslaughter verdict, he would wait an additional period to deliver sentencing. Woodward has presumably been swayed finally by the knowledge that the sentence for manslaughter, would probably be three to five years with credit for the nine months already served. Thus Woodward would be home for the millennium.

Whether the plethora of information now spilling out about the extraordinary nature of the jury deliberations will influence the judge in any way is unclear. We now know, for instance, that many jurors felt aggrieved that they did not have the chance to convict on manslaughter instead of murder.

"We were in a no-win situation here," one juror, Stephen Colwell, told ABC television news. "I think if other choices were available to us, then potentially manslaughter may have been the verdict."

Most extraordinary, however, are the details of how the jury reached its final determination. Mr Colwell said that at the outset, the jury took a vote and was seven to five in favour of acquitting Woodward. But then, in a manner of working that appears to have been the reverse of instructions from the judge, the jury began by identifying areas of reasonable doubt and one by one eliminating them. Judge Zobel had told jurors to consider the charge and to throw it out if, and as soon as, reasonable doubt was acknowledged.

After taking votes on each of these individual issues, they finally, last Thursday night, began voting on the verdict itself. Three ballots were taken and they ran nine to three for conviction, followed by ten to two and eventually twelve to nothing. There were tears from jurors but no yelling, he said. Apparently the jurors were swayed finally by two facts: their absolute faith in the testimony of doctors who first treated Matthew Eappen at Boston's Children's Hospital - an institution that is utterly revered in the city - and their inability to disappoint the Eappens if they decided to free Woodward. "There's no way we could face the Eappens or the citizens of the commonwealth [of Massachusetts] and say `We think she did it, but we're going to let her go'," Mr Colwell said.

When it was all over and the verdict had been given, members of the jury sat silently in the jury room for two minutes listening as the chilling cries of Woodward came through the walls from the courtroom. They also heard loud cursing and a chair being thrown in the room of the alternate jurors next door as they reacted with fury to the verdict.