Louise Woodward, the Nanny who killed Matthew Eappen

A 19-year-old woman, Louise Woodward, from Elton, England comes to the US as a nanny. She eventually is employed by Deborah and Sunil Eappen to watch their two sons, Brendon, 2, and Matthew, a baby. The baby, while under her care, suffers traumatic injuries. Louise denies she has harmed him. The trial draws an international audience and is the most televised event since the O. J. trial. Nearly a million dollars is donated from people who "know" Louise is innocent. Her friends in England actively lobby for her release. Typical of the statements of the true-believers are these:

*"Our little village made a girl like this, and we should be proud." (Jean Jones, one of Louise's supporters who flew to Boston, Massachusetts for the trial-commenting on the girl's ability to "show the dignity of a woman many years older.")
*"She is a loving, caring child who in no way could do what she's accused of." (One of Louise's former teachers)
*"Louise is 100% innocent." (Another supporter from Elton)
*"Louise is the kind of girl who would see a child fall and immediately run over to it and try to find its mother...You wait 'til she comes back. I'll introduce you to her, and you'll say she is what I tell you. No, you'll say she's more." (Steve Collins from Elton)

To our knowledge, no one else was in the house when baby Matthew was beaten so baldly he died. No one (perhaps except Louise) will ever know what really happened. However, a jury listened to several weeks of testimony and convicted her of 2nd degree murder.

Shortly after the verdict is rendered, Judge Hiller Zobel sets aside the murder conviction, reducing it to manslaughter and reducing the sentence to time served. Louise is free. The Jude reminds her she is a convicted felon. She stands convicted of being responsible for Matthew's death, but she will serve no more time for the crime.

Judge Zobel was well within the law when he reduced her conviction and sentence. He was convinced that Louise committed the crime, but not as a murderous act, but rather as a violent act born out of frustration and immaturity. The circumstances, Judge Zobel, decided did not warrant a conviction of murder.

I won't argue the reduction in sentence. First of all, I am not a lawyer. I am not familiar with the technical definitions separating manslaughter and murder. Second, the judge is thoroughly immersed in the legal nuances surrounding the case; I have no reason to doubt his competence nor sincerity.

What does bring me up short, however, is the mentality of those observers of the case who "knew" Louise was not guilty. Those who "knew" she "could not have committed the crime."

This "knowing" is no more than prejudice. It is unreasonable. It is blind. It is detrimental to justice. And, finally, it is absolutely typical of the popular mentality of the age we live in.

Those who say they know what happened (or rather what did not happen to little Matthew Eappen) are practicing divination-witchcraft. Their approach to justice is no better than Trial by Fire or Trial by Water practiced during the Dark Ages.

How ludicrous to think that you can say that you are able to discern or feel who will or will not commit a certain crime. If that is the way we are to pursue justice, let's throw out the legal system and simply have a clairvoyant pass down judgments in criminal matters. Why waste the time and money of having a trial.

However, as I mentioned, this mentality is mainstream. What else accounts for our insatiable national appetite for ludicrous talk shows which cater to such opinions and tastes. Why would we want "Martha from Hoboken" to call in and tell us her feelings about complex matters such as whether or not O. J. killed his ex-wife. We spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours to solve that problem and returned criminal and civil verdicts one-hundred-and-eighty degrees apart. But because we do not reach unanimous consent on complex matters, that does not mean we should resort to magic or guessing or popular opinion polls.

The search for the truth in the Louise Woodward is not helped by the media circus which attended it. Truth can only suffer when it bends the knee to popular opinion. That is why we so often see atop court houses a statue of Lady Justice, blindfolded as she holds up her scales. She is to be blind to the clamor of popular opinion.

Louise probably got a fair trial. She certainly got a compassionate judge. The verdict stands. Matthew's parents obviously feel robbed of justice because Louise is still legally guilty of killing their son, but she served only 270 days in jail during the trial and will not serve more.

What remains with me after this trial, is the picture of people screaming at the justice system in attempt to influence the trial's outcome. People who "know" where justice lies.