Cheers, tears, fireworks welcome nanny's release Britons shocked by trial praise judge

newspapers trumpet au pair's freedom

November 11, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Louise Woodward's home village of Elton erupted with cheers, tears and even fireworks last night after Judge Hiller B. Zobel of Massachusetts announced her freedom.

"We've done it, we've done it," said Jean Jones, whose initial $35 contribution kicked off what became the Louise Woodward Campaign for Justice.

"I believed in Louise. I believed in what we were doing," Jones told reporters who were jammed inside the Rigger Pub in Elton, headquarters for the support group.

Only last week, Woodward's supporters sat in stunned disbelief as the 19-year-old au pair was convicted of second-degree murder in the February 1997 death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen.

But yesterday, huddled around a television and computers, they received the news. First, after lunch in Britain, they heard that Woodward's conviction was reduced to involuntary manslaughter.

And then, after dinner, in prime time, they listened as the judge cut the sentence to the 279 days she already served.

After Zobel announced the sentence, the crowd eventually burst into song: "She's coming home, she's coming home, Louise is coming home."

Supporters also unfurled T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the Sun, a London newspaper, with the headline "Louise Free!"

"I feel like kissing that judge. I really do," said Woodward campaigner Sandra McCabe.

The campaigners, though, vowed to clear Woodward's name. And they also want to see her return home by Christmas. "We are pleased she is coming home and we are going to continue to try and get the verdict overturned," said the Reverend Ken Davey, the vicar in Woodward's parish.

Andrew Miller, a member of Britain's House of Commons, described Woodward as being "in a state of absolute amazement."

In Britain, the case attracted attention for months.

British trials are not televised, and reporting on a case is strictly limited to the information heard by the jury. Once a verdict is reached, the jury is never interviewed by the media.

Yet the Woodward case was different, and the trial provided the British with an up-close view of the U.S. judicial system. The trial was televised during prime time, and each twist of the case was analyzed in the media.

And when the initial decision went against Woodward, many here were outraged, even questioning the fairness and legitimacy of American justice.

Britain's tabloid press then went into overdrive to "Free Louise."

The Daily Mirror of London ran a front page with Woodward's face to the right of the Statue of Liberty and the headline "If This Statue Means Anything To America, Louise Woodward Will Today Be Given Back Her LIBERTY."

This morning, the Daily Mirror shouted: "Freed."

And the Independent of London said: "Confusion, frustration, anger. But not murder."

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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