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Judge to consider au pair verdict

Lawyers for the British au pair convicted of murdering a baby urged a judge Monday to let Louise Woodward go free or reduce her conviction to manslaughter _ a charge they themselves had kept the jury from considering.

Prosecutors opposed any change, saying the second-degree murder verdict in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen was proper.

"It was the defense that demanded that the jury be given only two choices, murder or acquittal," prosecutors wrote. "The defense should not be permitted to proceed with an "all-or-nothing strategy' . . . and then elect to move for a reduction to the very charge they opposed."

The arguments over the fate of the 19-year-old came in court papers requested by Judge Hiller B. Zobel, who will decide whether to ignore the jury and declare her innocent, drop the verdict to manslaughter or order a new trial.

Zobel will hear arguments on the opposing motions today. His ruling could come any time after that in a case that has renewed debate on both sides of the Atlantic about the quality of child care and the quality of justice.

Public pressure mounted for Zobel to give Woodward relief from her mandatory life sentence without parole eligibility for 15 years. A manslaughter verdict would mean a sentence of up to 20 years.

With time served, it's possible Woodward could be released from prison immediately.

Zobel, 65, has been a critic of juries in the past and is known as one of the few jurists in the state willing to overturn a jury's verdict.

Nearly 100 protesters hoping to influence the judge marched outside the courthouse chanting "Free Louise." Among the signs they held was: "O.J. Innocent, Louise Guilty? What's wrong with this picture?"

This weekend, the Boston Globe urged the judge in an editorial to reduce the charge to manslaughter, a ruling that would give him wide discretion in setting Woodward's sentence.

In the new legal motions, the defense said evidence presented in court during Woodward's trial failed to establish that the boy's skull was cracked on Feb. 4, the day prosecutors say she shook and slammed him in a fit of rage driven by her frustration with the job.

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