Juror defends decision to convict 19-year-old au pair Reluctant panel wished for manslaughter option

November 02, 1997|By BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON -- While Louise Woodward served the second day of her life sentence in prison, one juror in the case said the panel probably would have convicted the 19-year-old au pair of manslaughter, rather than second-degree murder, if the jury had been given that option.

The woman, who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity, said the jury believed Woodward's behavior fit the criteria for murder: intending to cause 8-month-old Matthew Eappen harm. But she admitted it would have been easier to find Woodward guilty of manslaughter, if only because it was so heart-wrenching to send a teen-ager away for life.

"I don't think any of us thought she tried to murder him, but the basis was: 'Would a reasonable person have known that such actions would have caused harm to a baby?' And we felt a reasonable 18-year-old would know that hitting a baby's head against a wall would cause harm," said the juror, a Cambridge resident.

"Nobody wants to [convict] a kid," she continued. "It wasn't easy deciding this verdict. Nobody liked doing it. But we weren't asked whether we liked it."

As defense attorneys worked through the weekend to prepare motions appealing Woodward's murder conviction, all 12 jurors -- nine women and three men -- continued to weather a barrage of public criticism from both sides of the Atlantic.

Several jurors hid behind closed doors, while others issued statements through parents or friends. One man, a 33-year-old property claims adjuster from Winchester, has "had it up to here," according to his father.

"They only had two choices: murder or murder," said Benjamin Welch, whose son declined to be interviewed after serving on the jury.

Another father, Walter Mannix, said his daughter had initially fought against convicting Woodward. In the end, he said, "It was the toughest decision she has made in her 24 years."

Since last week, when the British teen-ager was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for killing the youngest child of Newton doctors Sunil and Deborah Eappen, there has been widespread speculation about which courtroom tactics led the jury to its decision.

"We decided the case on the basis of medical evidence," the Cambridge juror said in a telephone interview. "There was very conflicting evidence on the side of the defense that supported the prosecution. We understood the medical testimony very well, and after a very thorough, conscientious examination of the medical evidence, we felt the prosecution had proven its case."

Some legal analysts have speculated that the theatrics of O. J. Simpson defense attorney Barry Scheck could have turned off the jury.

Tomorrow, defense attorneys plan to file motions seeking to get Woodward released from her cell at the MCI-Framingham Women's Prison. Middlesex prosecutors will file motions in response.

On Tuesday, both sides will appear before Judge Hiller B. Zobel. The defense will argue that he do one of three things: overturn the verdict; order a new trial; or lessen the conviction to manslaughter.

Middlesex District Attorney Thomas F. Reilly did not address the manslaughter issue yesterday, but supported the jury's decision.

"The jury is being criticized, and we are being criticized for convicting a child killer," Reilly said. "It's incomprehensible to me, this reaction."

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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