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Why was Louise Woodward released from prison?

LOUISE WOODWARD was a British teenage nanny who was jailed over the death of an American infant in 1997.

The trial split opinions on both sides of the Atlantic, with many questioning why Woodward was ever released from prison.

Why was Louise Woodward released from prison?

In January 1997, Louise Woodward, then 19, from Wirral, was working as an au pair for his family in Newton, Massachusetts.

She was responsible for looking after eight-month-old Matthew Eappen.

But just weeks after she started the job, the baby died of brain injuries, with prosecutors alleging he had shown classic symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.

Woodward was charged with first-degree murder, and was denied bail while being held at a maximum security prison until the trial.

At her trial, expert prosecution witnesses claimed Matthew’s injuries, including internal bleeding and a cracked skull, displayed the “triad” of symptoms consistent with him being violently shaken.

One expert, Dr Patrick Barnes, testified this was the “classic model” of shaken baby syndrome (SBS).

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Throughout the case, Woodward always maintained her innocence, with her defence team arguing the baby's death was caused by an injury he sustained weeks before.

On October 30, 1997, after 26 hours of deliberation, the jury found Woodward guilty of second degree murder.

This charge came with a mandatory life sentence and a minimum of 15 years in prison, but Woodward's legal team filed for an appeal soon after.

Just 10 days after her conviction, she successfully appealed and changed her charge to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 279 days in prison.

By this point, Woodward had already served her sentence and was freed.

How long was Louise Woodward sentenced to prison?

Woodward was sentenced to 279 days in prison.

She served her sentence and returned to the UK, where almost 25 years on from the trial, she now lives as a free woman in the UK with her own family.

Woodward went on to get a law degree, and now works as a dance teacher after starting her own school to teach jive and salsa.

What happened in Louise Woodward's appeal?

In the trial, the prosecution alleged that Woodward had killed the baby in a "frustrated, unhappy and relentless rage" – something her defence team vehemently rejected.

There was also dispute over a statement the au pair had made to the police, with Woodward claiming she told the authorities she had "popped the baby on the bed".

After clarifying she said "popped" rather than "dropped", Woodward explained that the word "pop" in as English term meaning to "lay" or "place" as it has different connotations in America.

On November 4, 2997, Woodward's legal team filed post-conviction motions to the trial court, and the hearing opened.

In the days following the verdict it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, but those who had favoured an acquittal were persuaded to accept a conviction.

However, this was of no legal consequence. None of the jury "thought she tried to murder him," one member said.

On November 10, at a post-conviction relief hearing, Judge Zobel reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter.

She said: "The circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterised by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense supporting a conviction for second-degree murder.

"I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice."

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