Where is ‘killer nanny’ Louise Woodward now – as new documentary airs on C4?
Channel 4’s ‘The Killer Nanny’ will look at the case which grabbed media attention on both sides of the Atlantic In November 1997, a British nanny was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of an eight-month-old American baby boy who had been in her care. The 1-year-old au pair, Louise Woodward, became the centre of a huge media storm and legal battle when baby Matthew Eappen died after falling into a coma.
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Louise Woodward in 1997, photographer with her MP (Picture: Chris Furlong)
Twenty-five years on from the case, new Channel 4 documentary, ‘The Killer Nanny’, looks at the evidence which reduced Woodward’s conviction from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter and how advances in technology might have resulted in a different verdict.
So, what happened in the trial, where is Woodward now – and what have Matthew Eappen’s parents said about the case? This is what you need to know.
What happened to Matthew Eappen?
Louise Woodward was a British caregiver from Cheshire, who worked in Massachusetts looking after eight-month-old Matthew Eappen. The baby boy was taken to hospital on February 4, 1997, having sustained a fractured skull and a subdural haematoma – a serious condition where blood collects between the skull and the surface of the brain.
Matthew Eappen was just months old when he died from injuries (Picture: Eappen Family)
While in hospital, doctors also noticed he had a fractured wrist which had been left untreated for several weeks. A paediatrician also diagnosed the child with retinal haemorrhages, which is considered a characteristic of shaken-baby syndrome.
Just five days after being taken to hospital, Matthew slipped into a coma and died of his injuries. While Matthew was being treated for his injuries, Ms Woodward was questioned about her care of the baby and admitted to “playing a little roughly”. She was charged with battery of a child.
Woodward with Brendan, Matty’s older brother, in the months before Matthew died (Picture: Getty Images)
However, when Matthew passed away the charge was increased to first degree murder with no room to lessen the charge.
What happened in the Louise Woodward trial?
What ensued was a courtroom battle in which the prosecution claimed Woodward had shaken the baby in a “frustrated, unhappy and resentful rage”, while the defence argued the injuries were weeks or months old. The case brought the term shaken-baby syndrome to the public’s attention and media outlets from both sides of the Atlantic reported on every twist and turn of the case.
British newspaper front pages show the verdict of the jury in the Louise Woodward murder trial in Cambridge, Massachusett in 1997 (Picture: Getty)
The prosecution brought forward expert witnesses including a neurosurgeon, an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, two pathologists, and an expert in child abuse, who said the injuries were intentional.
The defence fought back, as there were no neck injuries which would have been present if the baby had been shaken. Instead, the defence suggested the injuries had occurred weeks earlier and therefore could have been inflicted by his parents, who were both medical professionals. Despite these arguments, Woodward was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In the days following the verdict it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, and moreover none of the jury “thought she tried to murder him,” according to one juror. The defence filed an appeal and the judge granted the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. In November 1997, Woodward was released after serving 279 days in prison.
Judge Zobel reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, stating that “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.” He reduced Woodward’s sentence to time served, adding: “I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice.”
What did Matthew Eappen’s parents say about the charges?
Upon being released, Woodward flew back to the UK and gave an interview to BBC journalist Martin Bashir, in which she admitted to “lightly shaking” Matthew when he appeared unresponsive on the evening of 4 February.
Louise at court in the US, the court case was highly publicised (Picture: Getty)
His parents, Deborah and Sunil Eappen, filed a civil case to prevent Woodward from making any income from selling her story. Matthew’s parents have since set up a foundation to raise awareness of the issue and improve child welfare. A statement said: “This foundation was established in his memory to improve the safety and welfare of children by educating the public about the dangers of shaking a child and to provide assistance to victims and their families.”
Where is Louise Woodward now?
When she returned to the UK, Woodward enrolled to read Law at London South bank University and graduated with a 2:2. She began her career at a Manchester law firm, however, changed her career path and went on to become a dance instructor.
Ms Woodward also married the boss of a haulage truck hire company and has children of her own.
When is ‘The Killer Nanny: the trial of Louise Woodward’ on Channel 4?
The two-part documentary airs across two consecutive evenings, on January 9 and 10 on Channel 4 at 9pm.
Both episodes will also be available to watch on demand, on All 4.