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.