November 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Au Pair’s Conviction May Be Cut Prosecutors May Ok Reducing Murder Verdict To Manslaughter

Associated Press

Prosecutors said Sunday they had not decided whether to fight if British au pair Louise Woodward’s murder conviction is reduced to manslaughter.

Superior Court Judge Hiller B. Zobel invited both sides to argue whether he should reduce her second-degree murder conviction to manslaughter, dismiss the verdict or order a new trial, the three options he is allowed under state law.

Written motions were due today and a hearing was scheduled for Tuesday. The prosecution said it was only flexible on the issue of a verdict reduction.

“At this stage we would certainly appeal any decision to throw out the verdict or order a new trial,” said Martha Coakley, one of the prosecutors.

“On the third issue, as to whether he reduces it or not, we oppose it, but if he were to do that we would evaluate at the time what action we would take,” she said.

The lead prosecutor, Gerard Leone Jr., told MSNBC “we would be reasonable” if the conviction is reduced to manslaughter “and listen to anything which is placed before us.”

Woodward, 19, has denied cracking the skull of an 8-month-old boy in a fit of frustration. The verdict and mandatory life sentence stunned her supporters on both sides of the Atlantic.

Woodward was convicted Thursday of fatally shaking Matthew Eappen and striking his head against a hard surface. She was sentenced Friday and is not eligible for parole for 15 years.

The defense, which gambled and lost when it asked the judge to eliminate manslaughter from jury consideration, had argued their case in front of three mock juries before the trial and all returned innocent verdicts, said a source close to the defense who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At least two of the real jurors said they and their colleagues would have preferred to find Woodward guilty of manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. If convicted of manslaughter, she could have been sentenced to probation and avoided prison altogether.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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