Cambridge Gropes For Normalcy After Woodward Decision

* Release of English au pair brings city relief

As lawyers representing British au pair Louise Woodward were squaring off against prosecutors in the Middlesex County Superior Court in recent weeks, East Cambridge shopkeepers Peter B. Goodman and Bob Couliard were taking sides in their own debate.

Goodman, owner of PCs for Everyone, a computer retailer across the street from the courthouse, had a beef against the media, who parked their television trucks illegally in front of his store while covering the high-profile trial.

"It's been bad for business," Goodman said. "We've had people telling us they were reluctant to come in because of the scene."

Couliard, an employee at nearby East Cambridge Auto Body, was a bit more opportunistic in his approach.

"What difference does it make if the reporters were a pain in the neck?" asked Couliard, who rented parking spaces to media trucks during the trial. "They're good for business."

Such was the case for many locals living in the normally peaceful neighborhood of East Cambridge: the complex legal issues in the minds of lawyers took a back seat to the invasion of privacy they had to endure.

And so the announcement on Monday by Superior Court Judge Hiller B. Zobel '53, which reduced Woodward's conviction to manslaughter and set her free, draws to an end one of the biggest media onslaughts in the city's recent memory.

"I've been at this corner for 10 years, and this is the craziest thing I've seen," Goodman added.

Within the confines of the courtroom as well, it was indeed a trial that has taken unexpected turns.

On Oct. 30, a jury shocked a world audience and convicted Woodward of second-degree murder in connection with the death of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen. The sentence carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with a possibility of parole in 15 years.

On Monday, Zobel, after reducing the verdict to involuntary manslaughter, sentenced Woodward to the 279 days in prison that she had already served.

"After intensive, cool, calm reflection, I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice," he would be a miscarriage of justice," he wrote in his ruling.

Zobel prefaced his new sentencing in court on Monday by saying that "even with [the reduced verdict], the defendant is [convicted] of a felony, which may have serious consequences in her future."

In his 16-page decision, which was replete with references to precedent and historical context, Zobel said Woodward's actions were "characterized by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice (in the legal sense) supporting a conviction for second-degree murder."

Zobel, who among Superior Court judges has one of the higher rates of overturning jury verdicts, also stressed that it was within his duties as a judge to overturn a conviction that seemed unjust.

Citing past cases, Zobel said: "The judge must, above all, use the power sparingly, and with restraint...Because [the power to overturn a verdict] is a kind of safety valve, a means of rectifying disproportionate verdicts, the test is not whether the evidence could support a verdict of second-degree murder, but whether a lesser verdict more comports with justice."

In his opinion about a case that has stirred up more local public attention than any in recent memory, Zobel made it clear that his ruling was based upon law, not emotional outcry.

"Judges must follow their oaths and do their duty, heedless of editorials, letters, telegrams, picketers, threats, petitions, panelists, and talk shows. In this country, we do not administer justice by plebiscite."

Return to Normalcy

For Cambridge residents, however, the flood of attention surrounding the trial was tough to ignore.

"Parking here has been miserable," said John Nickerson, who lives directly behind the court-house on Spring Street.

"We've had this for about two months," he said, referring to the recent media coverage two other murders involving Cambridge resident.

Edward O'Brien, a Somerville teenager, was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of his best friend's mother about a month ago. In October, Cambridge youth Jeffrey Curley was found dead in a Maine river.

But Nickerson, a tall, cheerful Cantabrigian with shaggy white hair and a causal demeanor, found reasons to be positive.

"To tell you the truth, I don't mind that much. I was on a business trip in Atlanta watching CNN, and I saw my house" on television, he said.

Other residents, however, were glad to see the media go.

"I'm highly offended by their presence," said Abraham Lom, a landlord who owns a residential building behind the courthouse.

"Most of them tried to be polite, but nevertheless they still did whatever they damn well pleased," he said.

His long list of complaints continued. "They're totally indifferent to traffic violations," he said.

He also pointed to litter and debris scattered around the sidewalks and streets by reporters.

"We usually have a pretty clean neighborhood around here," he said, adding that the area's last scheduled street cleanup this year had already taken place.

Another key complaint of city residents was the presence of satellite trucks, specially outfitted RV's with built-in power generators and satellite dishes to broadcast news live from almost anywhere in the world.

According to reporters on the scene, there were between 15 and 20 satellite trucks at the height of media coverage. Trucks would typically arrive at 5 a.m., and some media crews would leave generators running until late in the night.

An elderly woman who lives behind the court-house bitterly criticized the proliferation of these trucks and the rumbling of their generators.

"They abused their privileges," said the woman, who asked not to be named. "When they're running their satellite dishes at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, the vibration is nerve-shattering.

"If you're disabled--as I am--you want some relief, you want some sleep."

She said her efforts to complain were ignored by members of the media. "When I tried to talk to someone in charge, there would never be anyone to talk to," she said.

"They should respect the people that have to live here. I found most of them disregarded me as an old lady."

In response to residents' complaints, Robert W. Healy, city manager of Cambridge, issued a letter ordering "all Media Satellite Broadcast vehicles" to "vacate the courthouse area" by 5 p.m. on Nov. 5.

Healy argued that since Zobel's decision was to be announced electronically, there was "no reason to occupy residential streets with large commercial vehicles for extended periods of time."

Almost no media organizations complied with the order. In fact, according to a satellite truck engineer with New England Cable News, "people laughed at it."

The engineer added that he "had very very little sympathy" for complaints from residents.

"It's a public street," he said.

Alan Cohn, a television reporter for New England Cable News, said that it would have been "impossible" for representatives of the media to follow the order.

"You couldn't not cover this [trial]," he said.

Other reporters said that some tension with residents was inevitable.

"Unfortunately, when you're covering a story like this you descend on a town like a small army," said Daniel Leon, a producer for ABC News.

"It's something we have to do," he said. "If people want to watch news, they're going to have to put up with it."

"On the other hand," he added, "we should be more cognizant of the fact that people live in these areas where we're working."

The Woodward trial has received more attention in Cambridge than any trial in recent memory, residents said.

"I've lived here a long time and there have been horrendous crimes in this neighborhood, but they never got this kind of attention," said the elderly woman.

"It has captured the interest of people not only in Boston, but also the world," Cohn said. "This does not happen every day."

"This case played into every parent's fear about leaving their child, and it's played into every European's fear of going abroad," he added.

Residents' Opinions

The case, televised live on Court TV, brought living rooms into the jury box, as followers across the world heard the same evidence--minute-by-minute--that the jurors themselves heard.

Cambridge was no exception, and residents here made no bones about voicing their own views on the case, despite the hassle of the daily media coverage.

According to Cambridge Police Sgt. Steven Ahern, 300 people turned out at the Middlesex Superior Courthouse on a chilly Monday afternoon to support Woodward after the sentencing.

"I'm overjoyed, overwhelmed," said Markham H. Lyons, a Massachusetts politician who ran for the U.S. Senate unsuccessfully in 1978 and was rallying in favor of Woodward outside the courthouse.

Another demonstrator, Barbara Noll, a graduate student at MIT and former member of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement in Poland, began to sing "Yahweh, I know you are near" once Woodward's defense team stepped outside.

Many criticized the original verdict on the grounds of lack of evidence.

"They didn't have any proof that she did it," said Robert Santos, an East Cambridge resident, in an interview yesterday. "Nobody saw her do it, and they didn't have...[finger] prints of her on the kid or anything to say she did it," he added.

He said he was impressed by the tolerance of Cambridge authorities toward protesters during the trial.

"They're lucky they can demonstrate and speak out because if it were any other country, they'd be shot or arrested," he said.

Others saw subtle traces of elitism in the outcome of the trial.

"I think if the girl were Mexican, the case wouldn't be like that," said Said Khoury, a Cambridge taxicab driver who lives in West Roxbury.

"I've been living here for 15 years, and [a person] who has money, who has power, they can get away with it," added Khoury, while navigating his cab through the streets of Cambridge on Monday.

Maxon Chaperon, a taxi driver from Haiti who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, offered his own reaction yesterday.

"The previous jury was baloney--justice is not fair, nowhere, even here," he said.

Some who had protested the original conviction and were elated by Zobel's announcement on Monday said they doubted the ability of the jurors to make a valid decision.

Lorraine B. Lasen, who held a picket sign on Monday afternoon saying "Liberty for Louise," said the earlier verdict of second-degree murder was "unfair, possibly because the jury didn't get a grasp on all the medical evidence that was presented to them."

Others, however, viewed popular conclusions with skepticism.

"Everybody is offering an opinion on something they really don't know anything about," said Philip Cronin '53, who was a classmate of Zobel at Harvard and was president of The Crimson while Zobel was assistant sports editor.

"A lot of people are offering opinions without really knowing what the evidence was," Cronin said, adding that it was "presumptuous of the world at large to comment on a case they didn't hear."

Woodward's defense attorney, Harvey A. Silverglate, who has formerly sued the University on behalf of students alleging misconduct by Harvard police officers, agreed.

"There are a lot of people commenting on this case who don't let facts get in their way," he said.

More to Come?

Upon request by the prosecution, Zobel remanded Woodward's passport into the custody of the court and demanded that she remain in the state until the prosecution has had an opportunity to appeal the decision.

Woodward, who maintained her innocence once again before her sentencing on Monday, released a statement yesterday from her hotel near Logan International Airport.

"I am enormously relieved that Judge Zobel has seen fit to give me back my liberty," she said. "I did not harm, much less kill, Matthew Eappen."

"I have been deeply saddened by Matthew Eappen's death," she added. "I loved Matthew."

At news conferences following Monday's sentencing, both the defense and the prosecution aired their views on the judge's ruling.

"It is an incredible, bizarre series of events," said Middlesex District Attorney Thomas F. Reilly. "It's almost beyond belief."

"I don't believe there was any justice in what happened in the courtroom this afternoon," Reilly added.

"The hardest thing I've had to do is speak to the two parents of Matthew Eappen and try to rationalize to them what happend on this court-house," said Assistant District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr.'85, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Defense attorney Barry C. Scheck said: "There are no winners in this case. This is a tragedy. Matthew Eappen is dead."

Both sides plan to appeal Zobel's decision.

"We can prove medically that [the injuries were] consistent with an accident," Scheck said, maintaining that Woodward played no role in Matthew's death.

EF Au Pair, the firm which placed Woodward in the Eappen home, is also exposed to civil suits.

The Eappens have not commented as to whether or not they will pursue such litigation, which legal experts say could cost the Cambridge-based company millions of dollars.

--Marc J. Ambinder contributed to the reporting of this story.CrimsonLinda S. CuckovichIN THE AFTERMATH: Defense attorneys (front, from left) HARVEY SILVERGLATE, BARRY C. SCHECK and ANDREW GOOD address the media.