Case Studies

Louise Woodward: Denied a fair trial


Louise Woodward was 19 years old when she moved to Boston, Massachusetts from the UK to work for the first time as an au pair. Following the death of the eight-month-old child she was looking after in 1997, Louise was arrested and charged with murder. Her arrest was accompanied by unprecedented press interest in Boston with Louise labelled guilty long before her trial had even started.

Attempts by her defence lawyers to have the case moved to a different state to ensure that the press coverage did not prejudice the trial were rejected. During the trial the defence produced scientific evidence to show that Louise could not have been guilty, which was unchallenged. Despite this, she was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison.

There was an immediate campaign headed by the Boston Globe to have the charge reduced to manslaughter and the defence appealed to the trial Judge to quash the Jury’s verdict. Louise had always maintained that she “didn’t do anything to hurt him or harm him in any way”.

Within days the Judge reduced Louise’s sentence to that of time served. Despite an appeal by the prosecution to have her re-incarcerated, she was released on June 16, 1998. Over a decade later Dr Patrick Barnes, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, changed his position, claiming that: “The science we have today could, in fact, have exonerated Louise. There is certainly, in retrospect, reasonable doubt”.

Fair Trials campaigned for Louise throughout her ordeal: a lead letter from the organisation, pointed out the injustice of the trial, and was published by the Boston Globe the day after their campaign opened.