The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It? 25 Years Later, The Untold Story of the Case. Channel 4.

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-killer-nanny-did-she-do-it/on-demand/71550-003

ITV showed a documentary about the trial of Louise Woodward on 11th November 2021. Channel 4 covers much the same ground. But they tell the viewer they have the untold story. What they have are two jurors in the trial that found Louise Woodward guilty of murder speaking anonymously in this documentary. Both female jurors were fizzing that Judge Zobel had produced a legalistic wild card that allowed Louise Woodward to go home to Britain and resume her life after serving 129 days incarcerated.

Episode 1 gives the case for the prosecution. Episode 2, the defence’s case. Episode 3 revisits those involved in the case with some surprising reveals. Louise Woodward, for example, courting publicity with her husband for a dance business they started.

Did she do it?

Over fifty years ago, Burnsie, me, Dav Prentice and Jim Scott were in the dock at Dumbarton Court. We were accused of smashing a car showroom window. The police case was that one of use had lobbed a brick through the window. The Prosecution Case was dependent on proving it. Now is the time to turn super-grass and name names. Dav Prentice was guilty. When nothing much was happening, Dav had a tendency to make things happen. But we kept stuhm and got done with Breach of the Peace. On the other charge of malicious damage (the lobbed brick) we weren’t found Not guilty, but Not Proven. This is a unique verdict in Scottish law. Had the jurors in the Louise Woodward trial been able to pronounce the case Not Proven that would probably have been the outcome.

We know from watching the programme that defence and prosecution worked on the assumption that their theories were held back by the facts, but all they had was theory. We’ve got so used to bias disguised as impartiality and not believing facts that don’t suit our narrative can be disregarded. From the election of the moron’s moron as American President to questions of the efficacy of the Covid-booster jab many of us get confused about who to believe. Life was simpler then. Louise Woodward was in a room with two children, something happened and one died. Human story telling is built around the why. Why did Louise shake Matthew so much that he died? Or did she shake him at all, or was somebody else involved.  

The prosecution case was she was frustrated with her employers. They ramped up her toxicity by suggesting she got in late and didn’t like getting up early. She also used the phone too much, and lied about it, although she’d been told not to. When questioned about Matthew’s death she’d behaved calmly and her hands didn’t shake.

The defence case was Louise behaved pretty much like any other nineteen-year-old, and Matthew had prior injuries. The long-tail argument, but what was never said explicitly was if Louise didn’t kill Matthew, his parents should have been in the dock. The defence case revolved around questioning experts’ expertise around ‘shaken-baby syndrome’.   

Just as proteins follow structure, shaken-baby syndrome comes with a triad of effects that can be read off like a Covid-screening-test.

Dr Patrick Barnes an advocate of such a methodology and witness for the prosecution, later said he had to go back and look at the data. And he no longer believed in the validity of the triad test. In effect, Dr Patrick Barnes had flipped. If the trial was taking place nowadays he’d be an expert witness not for the prosecution, but for the defence. But now, he too was being persecuted for his unorthodox beliefs that challenged the mainstream narrative.

Theories that make sense with huge amounts of data don’t make sense with very little and tend towards the anecdotal and confirmation bias.  Defence lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp was a partisan Louise Woodward supporter and suggested her prosecution was analogous to the Salem Witch Trials. When Louise was given bail but told not to flee the country, she went to stay with her defence lawyer. Yet, she excoriated Louise’s mum and dad, and called them sleazy. She asked Louise to leave her house. A tabloid reporter alleged she had Elaine Whitfield Sharp on tape saying Louise was a ‘duplicitous monster’ and she was guilty. In other words, she had flipped like Dr Barnes, but in a new and different direction, but she later denied it.

The decisions we make are not always rational. Ask Dav Prentice, period. My head says Louise Woodward is innocent. But my gut instinct as a writer is to imagine myself in that situation. Imagination myself as a nineteen-year-old in a city I didn’t know very well. Doing a job akin to the all-round kitchen girl of the early twentieth century, board and lodgings and work and more work and little money. One of the children’s playing up. Keeps crying all the time and is whining. Maybe I did shake him a little bit. To get him to stop. Maybe I shook him a bit harder, and he hurt his head. It couldn’t happen to me. It shouldn’t happen to me. If I could take it back, I’d make it all better.

When we wreck the theory, a beautifully constructed net that catches many monsters, all we are left with are ourselves. Whoever has the best story doesn’t win, but neither do they lose. There’s a murderer out there somewhere, and it may be within you.

Notes.

Peggy Hernandez. Globe Correspondent. In Louise’s home town were over 100 watched the verdict in The Rigger Bar a single question:

Is the defendant guilty or not guilty.

Guilty.

First reaction, a single scream. Then quietly the sobbing began. Heads fell into hands. And as Woodward began to sob in the court room, sobbing in the pub turned to wails.

After Judge Zobel. Everybody went nuts. There was so much champagne, everybody got sprayed.

Public perception can change on the dime. The villagers were very cautious after that. How it looked disrespectful to the memory of ME.

You never got a sense of what happened in that house.

Episode 3, The Fallout.

Elaine Whitfield Sharp.  Defence team. After the trial, Louise was very upset. She needed something to help her sleep. So I arranged that. Kinda morphed into the role of mother. After Louise was sentenced, Judge Zobel went back and apparently threw up.

I never accepted the verdict. You could see it was an old injury from the CT scan. If the jury had properly understood that. If they’d have paid attention and given us credit for it, they would not have convicted LW of murder nor of manslaughter.  

Barnes tested as a very rigid individual. When he testified I hated him.

I had to fight my way through a crowd to get to the courtroom. Everyone’s asking, ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t know. I don’t know

Louise said what’s going on? I said he’s reducing your sentence to involuntary manslaughter. You’re going home. This is just unreal. This is amazing.

What to do with LW? She can come and live with me.

I said to LW. Don’t talk to the media. You’re still at risk. You could go back to court and inside for life.

Susan and Gary Woodward had sold their story for £40 000. Whether with her knowledge, I don’t know. And it was underhand. And sleazy.

When all of that became clear to me, I said, OK, you need to leave.

I did however continue to help. I’d go to bed at one in the morning and get up at six. I worked day and night. Every minute I could.

That phraseology, ‘duplicitous monster’ isn’t even part of my lexicon. And they ran that with a photograph of a cassette tape. I’ve asked for a copy of that tape. Their answer: ‘I’ve destroyed it.’

This is a historic case. The fact is she never had a tape.

A state trooper said that I said LW was guilty. You have to contrast his claim against the fact I was spending thousands of dollars of my own money against the fact that she didn’t do what the prosecution said she did.

I’m happy and proud with the work I did.

31st October 1997 Louise returns to court to be sentenced.

Gerry Leone, Lead Prosecutor. From the Eeapen perspective it was always about finding responsibility and accountability for who killed their son.

Nothing will bring Mattie back. Louise Woodward was found guilty.

After Judge Zobel. We had a really good case. He took matters into his own hands. He had done it once before. That’s why I had the notice of appeal in my hand, and already filled out.

The prosecution appeal to reinstate the murder verdict.

LW is forbidden from leaving the country.

We work from the injuries back. Those that see child abuse on a daily basis. Not only consistent. But absolutely child abuse.

I do think LW is responsible for ME’s injuries and death. Over the years there’s been various opinions about shaken baby syndrome. Deborah Eappen started a foundation that focuses on research.

Deborah Eappen. She’s very aware of that day. And the violence she inflicted on Matthew.

Martha Coakley, Prosecution team.

They went through an unspeakable tragedy. To them there isn’t another side to this. I think they feel they’ve told their side. The result was a fair result. The person that murdered their child was in a way held accountable.

Louise Woodward, I’d just like to maintain my innocence. I never killed Mattie. I don’t know what happened to him. I’m not responsible for his death.

You will be sentenced to a term of life.

The defendant will be remanded in custody and she will go back to Framingham.

Life in jail. No possibility of parole for 15 years.

Voice of Louise Woodward (2003). I did a lot of crying. I had a lot of emotions. I was just frightened.

LW (voice 2003) I never forget that a little boy died. I feel really sorry about that…I think about him every day. It’s not something you can forget. The whole thing has been such a trauma.

Susan Woodward (mum) I’ll not stop fighting for her. She’s innocent. An innocent child. And they’ve made a horrendous mistake. She can’t be buried in an American prison for something she didn’t do [oh, yes, she can]

Husband gary.

Michael Green, Editor, Chester Chronicle. By and large outrage and the community was supportive of her.

After Judge Zobel’s intervention. It’s impossible to underestimate the sense of jubilation and triumph.

After LW passed her law degree. She got into a relationship with a man from Chester and they set up a dance school. The message was crystal clear. This is not going to ruin my life. To the point I can look forward. I don’t need to look back.

Nina Myskow, Journalist. Because it was so close to the death of Diana, which was a shared national tragedy. There was a different feeling in the country. We’d all been a nation of stiff upper lips, but suddenly after Diana everybody came together to grieve this tragic event.

The sluice gates had been opened. And it wasn’t so hard to open them again. But it was an entirely different situation. It just escalated into something that was mob hysteria.

A baby [Matthew Eappen] is dead. I’m not saying that’s she’s guilty of pre-meditated murder. But at a moment of stress something snapped.

I think the tabloids changed after she came home. Their attitude evolved. My God, she’s coming home. Don’t let her near a baby, which is horrific. But that’s just what tabloids do. It’s nothing about Louise. It’s not about her being guilty or not. It’s about selling a paper.

Annette Witheridge, former tabloid journalist. Probably the biggest story in America. It just got bigger and bigger as it twisted and turned. And just at that point it couldn’t get any stranger. It would.

I got a phone call and asked if I knew anything about Louise doing a book deal (with the Daily Mail)? ‘So Unfair’ headline.

We’d always said that LW and her family wouldn’t benefit from telling her story. And suddenly, I was such a liar.

I’m glad I taped Elaine. Because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. LW lies about the craziest of things. She’s basically saying she no longer believes LW. I actually didn’t know what to do with this as a story because this is a minefield. I took some advice from journalists and said let’s sit on this and see what happens. And then Elaine was arrested for drink driving.

State trooper that arrested her said that Elaine made a statement and she said that when she took the case she was convinced LW was innocent. Now she knows she’s guilty and is having a hard time handling it.

This has to go out there. So we ran the story. Daily Mirror. Front page. Louise is a lying monster. We reveal secret tape.

She didn’t just say it to me.

This {Panorama} interview watched by 8 million people was the first chance she had of getting her side across. Everybody wanted to interview Louise. Every newspaper, broadsheet or tabloid. Panorama won and she’s very polished. She’d have been advised what to wear. The BBC would have done her hair and make-up. She’s looking pretty sharp.

The newspapers were quick to pounce. Who does she think she is? Does she think she’s a celebrity?

Well, she’s kinda a celebrity by default. If she hadn’t given an interview, she’s keeping quiet. She gave an interview, she’s channelling Princess Di. Damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.

I think she came across very well. If you think how old she is. It would have been easy for her to snap. She didn’t.

Judge Zobel got everybody into court.

Simon Holmes, Louise friend. When the verdict came through the initial reaction was shock. The the next thing was let’s roll up our sleeves and show support. Louise isn’t like this. She’s innocent of this. I ended up going to America and going to the prison. I spoke to Sue and Gary. Most of the world can see that you’re innocent.  I think that’s an important message to get across when she was in the depths of despair. We knew at that point that the judge could review it. There was that hope. But you’re fearing the worst.

Elton Cheshire. Louise’s home village. Christian Leith, campaigner.  Everybody believed she was innocent. And like a small acorn grows the mighty oak tree.

Juror 1> I think people who accuse the jury on not understanding the science are just looking for an excuse as to why we found her guilty.

I felt horror, when Judge Zorbel had overturned the verdict. I felt angry that he would negate what we had spent so long working on. It made me furious with him. He must have had a warm spot for Louise, I think. But I lost any kind of respect I had for him as a jurist.

I went out on a date with a lawyer. And he went on at length how Judge Zorbel had done the right thing. And I think smoke was coming out of my ears. I was furious.

Juror 2> As a lay person, yes it was complicated but the prosecution did a very good job when they were asking people to provide medical information. They asked it so we could break it down and understand what that actually meant.

It did cast doubt in my faith in the legal system here in the US.

Dr Patrick Barnes. MD Paediatric radiologist. Served for the prosecution.  It had to be shaken baby syndrome. I see no old injuries. After the trial, I had some concern about my testimony. Obviously, I wasn’t there. So the doubt in your mind is, how do you know exactly what happened? My teachers had taught me that shaken baby syndrome causes characteristic findings like haemorrhage between the brain and skull. Bleeding in the eyes. Also brain injury. The so-called triad. And because we were biased, we would not believe the caretaker’s story. And that’s when the door started opening to consideration of accidental injury, but predisposing conditions that might date back to birth. I can’t give testimony that would convict LW beyond a reasonable doubt. I shouldn’t have done that.

The LW trial was a turning point in my career. From that point on I decided I had to be better informed.

I started getting criticism from institutions; you need to do something about Dr Barnes. We weren’t anticipating this kind of blowback and resistance and people trying to get us fired.

Shaken baby system is still used to identify child abuse and remains controversial. 

Barry Scheck (OJ’s defence lawyer) LW’s lead lawyer. The prosecution defence rested on Barnes’ testimony.

Hypothetical defence situation, rejected by Barnes.

In the state of Massachusetts a judge has the power to re-assess the jury’s verdict.

11 days after LW’s conviction.

Nancy Gertner, Professor, Harvard Law School. I think Judge Zobel was hoping the jury would come up with another verdict. Second degree murder is intentional. And whatever else this was, it was not intentional.

Judge Zobel 279 days in a house of correction.

Vicky Woodward (sister) Louise is very happy. She was expecting to get 10 years. She couldn’t believe it.

Parents of dead baby bitterly criticise judge for letting her go free.

Louise has been waiting 6 months for the Supreme Judicial Court to see if she is to go back to prison.

16th June 1998. The Supreme Judicial Court Upholds the judge’s decision. Louise is free to return home.

LW decides to give one interview from which she’ll receive no payment.

Panorama. BBC (1998)

Central question. Are you responsible for the death of ME?

No, I’m not. I’m innocent. If anything I tried to help him as best I could.

Do you accept that a sentence of 279 days isn’t a very long sentence for somebody convicted of murder?

A) 279 days is a long sentence for an innocent person. I’ve heard that I shouldn’t be allowed near children. And I find that incredibly hurtful. I love children. I’ve a lot of young children in my family. And I feel I’ve lost the right even to look at a child.

Clive Stanford Smith, Humans’ Right Lawyer.

The LW case is typical of shaken baby syndrome. You’ve got a carer who’s alone with the child. And the child suffers something. They’re not sure what. The child gets rushed to hospital. Then everyone is required to look for child abuse. And it all spirals out of control from there. I ran across my first shaken baby case in Mississippi in the 1980s. And I got obsessed with the science of it. It just made no sense at all. This whole triad telling us we had shaken baby syndrome is total bullshit. It results in a lot of miscarriages of justice.

Advocates of shaken baby syndrome insist it’s an effective way to identify abuse.

Dr Lori Fraiser. Child abuse paediatrician. My view is that children can be shaken violently and their brains can be seriously damaged. After the LW trial I persisted in a letter that was signed by a group of paediatricians to set some of the alternative theories straight.

The issue was, when was the child injured.

When would they become symptomatic (have symptoms)?

Cases of fatal head injury, have to be very close to the time they fell unconscious.

It is an emotional matter. And because it happens in an isolated setting there is often support for the defendant because they are a good person. I never say the defendant is a bad person. They may have done a bad thing. Or something may have happened so they snapped. And abused the child, but often there’s serious consequence to that.

Detective William E Burns (jnr) I’ve no doubt she did it. It carried with me the last 25 years. I felt bad for a lot of people. I felt bad for LW. She’s the same age as my daughter. She’s got to live with it. Ultimately god will judge what happened that day. She made a horrible mistake. It happens all the time. In England, here in America and all around the  world. She didn’t get up in the morning and say I’m going to kill this child. But her actions are responsible for the child’s death.

Jonathan Hunt, Sky Reporter. I think the truth is pretty unknowable. The prosecution presents its case. The defence present theirs. And we come to it with all our biases and preconceptions.

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