Lessons from the Au Pair Murder Trial | The Oprah Winfrey Show | Oprah Winfrey Network


[CRYING] OPRAH WINFREY: It
was a sob heard on both sides of the Atlantic. 19-year-old Louise
Woodward was found guilty in the
second degree murder of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen. Why did you do that to me? Why did you do that to me? OPRAH WINFREY: It
began last February, in Newton, Massachusetts,
when Woodward, employed as an au pair called 9-1-1. OPRAH WINFREY: Police claim
she violently shook Matthew, causing severe brain damage. Five days later, Matthew’s life
support system was turned off. Matthew died while
I was holding him. OPRAH WINFREY:
Woodward was given a mandatory sentence
of life imprisonment, while still asserting
her innocence. I don’t know what
happened to him. I’m not responsible
for his death. [SHOUTING] OPRAH WINFREY: Outside
the courthouse, the streets were lined with
protesters from both sides. Please, please, if
anybody can do anything, please get this
girl some justice. What about the baby? Justice for that baby. Everybody forgot
about that poor baby. Louise, Louise, Louise. OPRAH WINFREY: But Louise
wasn’t the only woman on trial, so was Matthew’s mother, Deborah
Eappen, who was seen by some as trying to have it all. LAWYER: Fair to say
that your life was busy? Busy. LAWYER: Full? In a good way. LAWYER: And would
just say, ma’am, that your life was somewhat
stressful in dealing with all of that? It’s a balancing act. OPRAH WINFREY: Yesterday,
in a shocking decision, Judge Hiller Zobel
reduced the verdict to involuntary manslaughter
and sentence Woodward to time already served, 279 days
she had already spent in jail. In Louise’s hometown
of Elton, England, the news was greeted with
cheers by supporters and family members. But closer to home, it was
yet another stunning twist in a case that has divided
people from the onset. Joining us now are some of
the close family members of Sunil and Deborah Eappen. Sharon Spellman is Matthew’s
aunt, Deborah Eappen’s sister. Susan Eappen is also an
aunt, Sunil Eappen’s sister. Matthew’s grandmother
is here, Wilma Spellman, and Deborah Eappen’s
brother, Paul Spellman, Matthew’s uncle and godfather. How stunned were you? SHARON SPELLMAN: I was
extremely surprised. I most expected that he
would leave it stand. OPRAH WINFREY: You did? Yes, I did. Did you feel that the first
sentencing, the first ruling in sentencing, was fair? Yes, I did. OPRAH WINFREY: You did. You felt that you should
serve life in prison? A life sentence with 15 years
availability of parole I think means she would have
served 15 years in prison. OPRAH WINFREY: So the family
was basically OK with that, pleased with that, were you? SUSAN EAPPEN: Yes,
pleased with that. It’s hard to say pleased,
because we’ve really felt like Matthew’s
gone, and nothing’s going to bring Matthew back, but
we felt it was a just verdict. We felt it was very just. And so did you think
that that would remain? SUSAN EAPPEN: I did
think it would remain. I thought there was
a chance it would get reduced to manslaughter. However, I thought the
judge would sentenced her to 15 years, which
I think would have still felt somewhat just to me. It’s not the charge. It’s not manslaughter
versus murder in terms of what I think is appropriate. It’s the sentencing. It is so inappropriate
that she would be let go. OPRAH WINFREY:
Mm-hmm, and how are you feeling about that today? Horrified, stunned, sad,
you know, just it’s terrible. Sharon, how are you feeling? SHARON SPELLMAN: I feel that
if the jury found her guilty of murder, the judge found
her guilty of killing a baby, and if people who kill
babies don’t belong in jail, if 279 days is
enough for them, who does belong in jail? [APPLAUSE] OPRAH WINFREY: Of
course, we wanted Deborah and Sunil here
today, but I understand that they are in hiding. And we were just talking during
the commercial break about what has happened to their lives. And I was saying
to the audience, I don’t understand the
attacks on Deborah. I’m sure the rest of the
family does not either, and how is she feeling today? How she’s feeling
today, I’m sure similar to how we’re feeling
and probably even a lot worse. OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah. Did you speak to her? I haven’t spoken to her. My mom has spoken to her. And you’ve spoken to her? WILMA SPELLMAN: Yes,
I did last evening. Mm-hmm, and how is she? She’s very upset. She feels that
justice hasn’t really been carried through on their
behalf, on Matthew’s behalf. She’s positive. She’s hopeful that
something good will come of this in the realm
of education for child abuse. OPRAH WINFREY: Mm-hmm. More information about
shaken baby impact syndrome to be given out to the
public, to save other infants. OPRAH WINFREY: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Do you understand the
attacks on your daughter? No, I really fail
to understand it. I can’t fathom how
that came about. OPRAH WINFREY: Because a lot
of people felt that, you know, she too then was on trial. It’s bewildering. OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah,
it’s bewildering. I can’t see– you
know, Louise is on trial, and how it came back to
condemning the parents, I can’t understand. OPRAH WINFREY: For working,
because I think a lot of people felt that perhaps
they had enough, and why should she work?
She should have been at home. WILMA SPELLMAN:
Except that they were parents who carefully
geared their work schedule around family. They both took jobs that
permitted them to have maximum time with their
family in which they spend very lovingly and wisely. In fact, Deborah was
not employed full-time. OPRAH WINFREY: She
worked three days a week. That’s correct. OPRAH WINFREY: And often came
home in the middle of the day. Often came home when she
was able to in the middle of the day, went out on Fridays
with her then two-year-old son for a special time. They spent weekends
doing family activities, going out, having fun,
doing family recreation. There is just no
justification to a charge that somehow they
were neglecting the family in order to progress
in their careers, and you know. Yeah. Not only that, I
heard it implied on– I don’t know, there have
been so many news stories– that perhaps maybe
the two-year-old had something to do with it. Did you all hear that? Amazing. Paul, what do you want to say as
the godfather to baby Matthew? Any contention like that
is absolutely ridiculous. I think if you set
yourself away from all this and just think about that,
separate from Louise, it’s preposterous to think
that could even happen, and there is no
evidence of that. There was no suggestion of
that even by the defense during the trial. There was only hints of that
to create this reasonable doubt which didn’t even get created. OPRAH WINFREY: Well, we
all watched, you know, in the comfort of our homes. We read the newspapers. We can’t imagine what
this does to a family. What has it done
to the families. It brought you closer together? What has happened in the family? Sharon? I’d say, we’ve always been
close together, of course. Now, three of my sisters live
out of Chicago, out of state. So we’re, I’d say, communicating
a little more across the miles than we were before. OPRAH WINFREY: I imagine
there’s a part of you that can’t believe it’s happening.
Right? Susan? SHARON SPELLMAN: You can’t
believe it’s happening. It was the worst in February,
when it actually happened and seeing him in the
hospital and all of that. That was horrible, and there
was a media swarm at the time. And we couldn’t understand that
and turning the news on and having your family on the news. You know, you just never
think it could happen to you. So I think we’ve gotten used to
the fact that it’s in the news, but really, it’s the
impact on the family. It takes a terrible toll. It doesn’t allow you to go
through the healing process that you would
normally be allowed, just with the death
of a child which is horrible in and of itself. Beyond the fact that this
was an inflicted trauma, and we have no doubt that
it was an inflicted trauma. There’s a lot of
speculation in the media. There was a lot
of media coverage on the defense’s
medical theories, and they were theories. They were not factual. It did not happen anytime
before February 4th. Do you believe there
was some prior accident? SHARON SPELLMAN: If
two-year-olds could kill babies or if eight-month-olds
could roll around and crawl
around with a skull fracture for three weeks– OPRAH WINFREY:
And nobody notice. No symptoms, eat peas,
babble, and go into a coma, I’d like to know how
many people in this room have ever heard of
that, have ever seen it. If it happens in real
life, it seems like it would have happened before. We would have somehow– OPRAH WINFREY: So you’re
saying, if there had been some prior injury, this
is a responsible family that would have noticed if
their child was in pain. Of course, it was not. There was no prior
injury that resulted in the death of Matthew. What’s been publicized is there
was a slight wrist fracture that was found upon the X-ray
of his entire body which is not unusual in cases of
child abuse, which the doctors thought
also that Louise was probably responsible for. However, in an eight-month-old
who does not crawl yet, unless he complains, unless
he cries, unless he’s doing something that
says, my hand hurts, without being able to
come out and say that, you wouldn’t necessarily notice it. There was no bruising. There was nothing outward. So what they basically did
was say, oh, look at this, there was a wrist fracture. Everything happened
three weeks ago. It’s just not true. SHARON SPELLMAN:
And they’re saying that the bouncy
seat picture of him was taken after the
wrist fracture is dated. He is holding the
bottle with both hands. There isn’t much babies do
with their arms and hands that you would notice
an injury like that, and it was simply unnoted.