A Look Back at the Shaken Baby Case

Family of baby shaken to death by nanny copes by taking up a cause.

ByABC News via logo
February 9, 2009, 6:05 PM

Oct. 30, 2007 — -- The murder trial of British au pair Louise Woodward 10 years ago rocked the small town of Newton, Mass., and brought "shaken baby syndrome" into the national consciousness.

Woodward, 19, was found guilty of second-degree murder for violently shaking 8-month-old Matthew Eappen and causing his death.

Days after the jury's decision, the judge shocked residents by commuting the sentence down to manslaughter and releasing Woodward for time served (about nine months). She returned to Britain and has maintained she did not hurt Matthew.

Ten years after Woodward's trial brought shaken baby syndrome into the limelight, Matthew's parents, Debbie and Sunil Eappen, are committed to making sure it stays there.

"I feel like a positive from this is to be able to say to our kids, look, when something goes really wrong, we are able to make a difference by trying to make something really right," said Debbie Eappen, an ophthalmologist and mother of Brendan, 12; Kevin, 8; and Elisabeth, 6.

The Matty Eappen Foundation, founded by the Eappens a year after Matthew's death, is dedicated to education and the prevention of shaken baby syndrome and to the memory of their son.

When a baby is shaken, the brain make impacts with the skull. The result is bruising, swelling and bleeding of the brain, which can cause permanent damage and even death.

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome estimates that hospitals in the United States handle 1,300 cases of abuse-related head trauma in children every year, most of them diagnosed as shaken baby syndrome and many caused by parents or caregivers frustrated over incessant crying or fussiness. One quarter of shaken baby syndrome cases result in death.

Perhaps surprisingly, 75 percent of shaken baby cases involve parents, and men are more often the perpetrators, according to Dr. Alice Newton, director of the child protection team at Massachusetts General Hospital.