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Britons rally around au pair

A campaign to free British au pair Louise Woodward from a U.S. prison gathered force Sunday as supporters signed petitions, donated money and picketed the American Embassy in London while Hillary Rodham Clinton was visiting.

Prayers were offered at church services for Woodward, while British newspapers trumpeted widespread criticism of the verdict handed down Friday by a Cambridge, Mass., jury that said she had killed an 8-month-old boy in her care.

The American Embassy, which has been inundated with phone calls since the verdict was announced, was the scene of protests Sunday while Clinton attended a reception.

"Iraq-No Justice. Libya-No Justice. USA-No Justice," said one of the placards carried by about 25 demonstrators who paraded in front of the building.

"This is the only part of America within reach," said Hazel Parker, a retired headmistress from New Malden, 50 miles west of London.

The first lady did not encounter the protesters, however. She entered through a back door.

An embassy spokesman said they received more than 1,000 calls on Friday criticizing the verdict and more came in to the embassy answering machines during the weekend.

Donations poured into the Rigger Pub in Woodward's hometown of Elton, England, and supporters said they had raised more than 100,000 pounds ($167,000) to fund her parents' travel and other expenses related to an appeal of the verdict.

The Louise Woodward Campaign for Justice called for candlelight vigils at U.S. embassies worldwide and urged supporters to wear yellow ribbons.

A juror in the case, Jodie Garber, told a British newspaper no one on the panel had thought Woodward intended to kill Matthew Eappen. But she told the Mail jurors felt compelled to deliver a guilty verdict because of the judge's instructions.

Garber said the jury decided from the medical evidence that Woodward did cause Matthew's fatal brain injury and it was not an accident. But jurors thought it was an act the 19-year-old committed in the heat of the moment.

"Nobody was happy having to do this. Nobody thought Louise intended to kill the baby," Garber said.

Other British newspapers poured scorn on the American legal system and the show-business aspect of televised murder trials.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Superior Court Judge Hiller Zobel had written in 1995 that the American jury system was deeply flawed, saying it was "asking the ignorant to use the incomprehensible to decide the unknowable."

An article in the Independent said Woodward was just lucky she had not been an au pair in one of the 37 states that imposes the death penalty.

"The grimly retributive code of criminal justice (in the United States) in some respects seems to obey more the spirit of Saudi Arabia than Western Europe," the article said.

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