Woodward's team launch new inquiry

LAWYERS WHO represented Louise Woodward in her Boston murder trial said yesterday that they will instigate a full scientific inquiry into fresh claims, made in a CBS television news programme at the weekend, that the child who had been in her care, Matthew Eappen, died from strangulation.

The announcement was made by the lawyers in Boston in response to a growing public furore about the strangulation theory. They promised they would be assembling their own experts to study the findings. Eventually an independent inquiry could be launched jointly with prosecutors, they said.

A weekly news show, 60 Minutes, aired interviews with two doctors attached to the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. Contradicting the prosecution case that Matthew had died from brain trauma caused by slamming of the head and violent shaking, they contended that he had instead been strangled. The strangling, they added, could have occurred up to two days before his admission to hospital.

Now studying law in London, Ms Woodward was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after the judge in the case nullified an earlier jury verdict of second-degree murder. She returned to Britain last summer and in January settled a wrongful-death suit with Matthew's parents, Deborah and Sunil Eappen.

If her former lawyers conclude that the strangulation theory is credible, they could move for a new trial and the overturning of Ms Woodward's conviction. But they stressed yesterday that the final decision would have to be made by Ms Woodward herself. "Miss Woodward has always taken the course that would vindicate her and prove her innocent," Barry Scheck, one of the lawyers, said.

The CBS programme reported the findings of Dr Floyd Gilles, who had spent six months studying medical evidence from the original trial. He concluded that bruising on the inside of Matthew's neck indicated strangulation, which would have impeded the flow of blood to his brain. His findings were supported in the programme by a colleague, Dr Marvin Nelson.

The claims quickly stirred controversy. A group of 70 doctors sent a searing open letter to CBS saying the network had been irresponsible to give air time to the two doctors and so cause new distress to the Eappens. They called the strangulation theory "preposterous".

A co-ordinator of the letter was Dr Carole Jenny of Brown University Medical School. "I was pretty mystified by how in the world people can come to a conclusion that ... overlooks the skull fracture, the subdural haemorrhages and all the other things this child has," she said.

CBS has defended the programme. Kevin Tedesco, a network spokesman, said: "Our doctors have seen the evidence first-hand. Those doctors who wrote the letter haven't".

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