The Prosecution’s Appeal

In cross-examination the defense lawyer was able to produce evidence that one of the witnesses testifying to Woodward’s bad character had previously committed welfare fraud. When either the defense or the prosecution calls a witness to the stand they lead the witness by asking a serious of questions with a view to adducing the relevant facts necessary to support their respective theories of the case. This is called direct examination of a witness. The opposing attorney then conducts an examinationof the witness calculated to shake their credit and to bring out discrepancies in that witnesses evidence. This is called cross-examination.

The defense team which consisted of Harvey Silvergate, Andrew Good and Barry Scheck employed an interesting strategy at the close of the case. They argued that only the charge of murder be put to the jury and that the judge not direct the jury on lesser included offences of manslaughter. The prosecution had argued for the judge to direct the jury on the lesser included offences. The defence strategy was to force the jury to either convict Woodward of murder or acquit he altogether. Since the jury would be denied the option to convict Woodward of manslaughter they might be more inclined to acquit her altogether.

But things did not turn out the way the defense had anticipated. After deliberation for some 27 hours the jury returned a verdict of guilt in respect of second degree murder. Under Massachusett’s law a conviction of second degree murder carries a mandatory life senctence. In response to the jury’s verdict Woodward’s lawyers filed an appeal in the court which was seized of the matter and the hearing of the appeal commenced on November 4. The judge, Hiller B. Zobel, who had presided over the jury trial heard the appeal and on November 10, he substituted the jury’s second degree murder conviction with a conviction of involuntary manslaugheter.

The judge commented that: "the circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterised by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense supporting a conviction for second-degree murder…I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice". The judge also sentenced Woodward to time served which amounted to 279 days with the result that she was free with the proviso that she not leave the country until the prosecution had filed and litigated an appeal.

District Attorney Gerald Leone filed an appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. In its appeal to the Massachusett’s Supreme Judicial Court the prosecution made a number of strong claims including the impropriety of the judge’s rejection of the jury’s verdict and substituting it with his own verdict. The prosecution claimed that this kind of conduct on the part of the trial judge was not only an abuse of this discretion but also that by doing as he did the judge usurped the functions of the jury.

Another ground of appeal was founded on the jury instructions given by the judge. The prosecution had taken issue with the judge’s decision not to instruct the jury on the lesser included offence of involuntary manslaughtter. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts agreed and pointed out that: “when the evidence permits a finding of a lesser included offense, a judge must, upon request, instruct the jury on the possibility of conviction of the lesser crime. "

The Judicial Supreme Court also noted that in the majority of the appeals on the issue of the judge’s failure to instruct a jury on the lesser included offences these appeals usually originate out the defense’s efforts. This is so because under Massachusett’s law the judge is required to instruct on the lesser included offences at the request of the prosecution. The Judicial Surpemre Court pointed out that the law is so well grounded that this particular court had continuously “affirmed a judge’s allowance of the request over the defendant’s objections. ”