(BIRMINGHAM, England) — Louise Woodward, the British au pair who was jailed for the shaking death of 8-month-old American Matthew Eappen in 1997, has just given birth to her own baby girl on New Year’s Day, according to the Birmingham Mail.
Woodward was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Boston court for second-degree murder, but she only served 279 days when an appeals court upheld the judge’s decision to downgrade the charge to manslaughter.
Judge Hiller Zobel said he believed Woodward had acted out of “confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense.”
Woodward was only 19 when the Boston murder trial riveted the world and brought “shaken baby syndrome” into the national consciousness.
Today, Woodward, 35, and her husband Antony Elkes, 33, live in South Shropshire. She is now a salsa dance teacher and he operates a truck rental company.
She consistently proclaimed her innocence, and her lawyers argued that Matthew’s death was caused by a prior injury.
In a rare interview in 2007, she talked about the psychological pain of the verdict and her desire to have a baby.
“I know there are some people out there just waiting for me to have a baby so they can say nasty things,” she said at the time, according to the Mail. “That upsets me, but that is not going to stop me leading my life. I am innocent. I have done nothing wrong. I am entitled to enjoy my life. I am not going to apologize for being happy.”
In 2007, ABC’s Good Morning America talked to Matthew’s parents, Debbie and Sunil Eappen of Newton, Mass.
“I feel like a positive from this is to be able to say to our kids, look, when something goes really wrong, we are able to make a difference by trying to make something really right,” said Debbie Eappen, an ophthalmologist and mother of three children, now 18, 14 and 12.
A year after their son’s death, they founded The Matty Eappen Foundation, dedicated to education and the prevention of shaken baby syndrome.
“To me it’s really not about Louise, it’s about Matthew,” she said at the time. “Matthew should be with us today, and he should be celebrating the Red Sox and going trick-or-treating and being an 11-year-old boy.”
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the lawyer who first represented Woodward, said she “never had any doubt at all” about her client’s innocence. “I think it’s great news and I hope she is very happy,” she said of girl’s birth.
“I think when there is reasonable doubt as to guilt, [she] should be acquitted on all charges — whenever there is evidence that can be argued both ways,” Sharp, who practices law in Boston, told ABC News.
“[Louise] seemed very mild and didn’t have a lot to say for herself at times,” said Sharp. “She didn’t seem well-informed about the world and was a bit childish and a little bit silly. But she handled herself in court in a mature way.”
Sharp said that the job with the Eappens was her second as an au pair because the first family lived so far out of Boston, “she couldn’t go out at night.”
Woodward “didn’t have great experience with kids other than the usual babysitting,” said Sharp. “She was very young and really immature — that was what set people in their perception of her as a killer.”
As for the death of Matthew Eappen, Sharp said, “I never saw her cry over it, although she cried when she was convicted. I don’t keep in touch and I have no intention of doing so,” she said.
“I am glad she’s getting on in her life. As long as nothing happens to the child, this will show people she didn’t do anything to Matthew. That’s one inference people may draw from this.”
Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College in New York City, said people will make assumptions about Woodward’s parenting skills, 16 years later.
“The whole world knew about the baby shaking,” she said. “Now everyone is looking over her shoulder: Will she be a good mommy?”
“I would want to know two things: what is her level of aggression and lack of impulse control — and what her own childhood was like,” said Kuriansky. “Was there any aggression, was she yelled at when things went wrong or was she taught to be a proper British girl? These are crucial predictors.”
“Her upbringing, how she was mothered is important,” she said. “She will try to repeat that or go the opposite way.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Becky Griffin, KSL.com
Julie Wootton, Times-News