How long did Louise Woodward spend in jail?

The trial of the 19-year-old Louise Woodward for the murder of Matthew Eappen shocked the world in 1997.

The British nanny, who became the centre of a huge media storm and legal battle, was spared life in jail, instead walking free after her trial.

Why did Louise Woodward go to jail?

Louise Woodward is a British former au pair, who in 1997 was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter after an eight-month-old baby died in her care.

The then 19-year-old, from Elton, Cheshire, was looking after young Matthew Eappen, in Massachusetts, US, when the baby stopped breathing and she called an ambulance.

He was rushed to Boston Children’s Hospital and put on a life support machine – but tragically died six days later from a brain haemorrhage.

The British au pair admitted to playing "a little roughly" with the baby days before his death and was charged with battery of a child, but when Matthew died, Woodward's charge was upgraded to first-degree murder.

In a polarising trial that took place in October 1997, Woodward continued to maintain her innocence but was criticised for appearing ‘cold’ and ‘remorseless’.

The prosecution alleged she killed the baby in a “frustrated, unhappy and relentless rage” – a claim the au pair’s lawyers strongly rejected.

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Experts said Matthew's injuries were classic symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome – a forceful action that causes serious brain damage or death.

However, the defence and brain surgeon Joseph Medsen argued Matthew’s death could have resulted from a head injury obtained two weeks earlier. 

In a new Channel 4 documentary, The Killer Nanny: Did She Do It?, one of the experts who testified against Woodward revealed he has since changed his mind — saying the science behind the diagnosis of SBS is flawed.

How long did Louise Woodward spend in jail?

On October 30, 1997, following 26 hours of deliberations, the jury found Woodward guilty of second-degree murder – which meant a mandatory life sentence.

The young Brit, who collapsed in tears upon hearing the verdict, told her parents: “Please don’t let me spend the rest of my life in here for something I didn't do.”

In the days following, it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, and one person even admitted none of the members "thought she tried to murder him".

On November 4, Woodward's legal team filed post-conviction motions to the trial court, and the hearing opened.

Six days later, 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."

He sentenced Woodward to 279 days in prison, which was the exact time she had already spent in jail, which meant she walked free.

The prosecution challenged the decision to overturn the verdict and launched an appeal, bringing the trial to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided by four votes to three in Woodward's favour – meaning she was able to return to the UK.

Where was Louise Woodward imprisoned?

Woodward was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on February 9, 1997.

She was denied bail and held until the trial at the MCI-Framingham prison, in a maximum-security unit.

After spending 279 days in jail, she returned to the UK, where almost 25 years on from the trial, she now lives as a free woman and has her own daughter.

Woodward went on to get a law degree, and now works as a dance teacher after starting her own school to teach jive and salsa.

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