| 0.2°C Dublin

Caitriona Palmer: Nanny trial has echoes of infamous Woodward case

AISLING McCarthy Brady may have been the only person in Boston last week grateful for the distraction of the marathon bombs.

On Thursday, while the manhunt for suspected bombers captivated residents with wall-to-wall TV coverage, Ms McCarthy Brady was led into a Boston courtroom where she quietly wept as she was charged with first-degree murder.

Just weeks before, the 34-year-old nanny from Cavan had been the subject of splashy news headlines all across Massachusetts with the allegation that she had shaken the baby in her charge, one-year old Rehma Sabir, to death.

"This is homicide but the wrong person has been charged with this crime," Melinda Thompson, lawyer for Ms McCarthy Brady, told the courtroom.

"This shaking did not happen," Ms Thompson said. "There is more to this story than we have here."

With a heavy heart, Boston has been down this shaken baby road before. In 1997, in a trial that riveted viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, Louise Woodward, a 19-year-old nanny from Britain was convicted of second- degree murder in the shaking death of an eight-month-old baby from Boston, Matthew Eappen.

Just days following her conviction, a judge caused outrage in America by downgrading the decision to manslaughter and releasing Woodward from prison for time served.

Woodward's trial dredged up the tired old debates about working mothers who dared to leave their babies in the care of other women.

It damaged American/British relations, causing uproar on the streets of the UK where many residents saw Woodward's televised trial as evidence of a flawed judicial system, and worse, a public lynching of an innocent teenager.

Ms McCarthy Brady's trial is set to be just as controversial – and the facts just as murky. Like Woodward, the Irish native was the only person in the baby's care when the alleged crime took place. Little Rehma was found unresponsive in her crib by McCarthy Brady – on her first birthday, January 14 – and rushed to hospital where she died two days later.

Prosecutors returned to that room following her death and found bloodied baby wipes and blankets near the crib. According to a police report, the wall next to the Rehma's changing table had a "piece of drywall/plaster missing . . . consistent with it being damaged by forceful contact with the corner of the changing table."

But crucially, as in the case of baby Matthew Eappen, baby Rehma was found during examination to have "multiple healing bone fractures" – old injuries.

Her team of defence lawyers is now suggesting that Rehma's old injuries could have happened during the Sabir family holiday to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the Christmas period in late 2012, when Ms McCarthy Brady was not with the child.

But unlike the sombre teenage Woodward, Ms McCarthy Brady has a volatile past that includes two restraining orders and an arrest in 2007 for allegedly assaulting her female roommate (although these charges were later dismissed).

Difficult to defend too will be her illegal status in the US.

On May 6, Ms McCarthy Brady will once again enter a courtroom in Boston and this time, odds are that a lot more people will be paying attention.

As news of the bombings fade, the appetite for other sensational stories has begun to grow and the saga of an illegal Irish nanny charged with the death of a beautiful baby girl is sure to ignite a firestorm of interest.

Irish Independent