Eleven days after a Cambridge, Mass., jury found British au pair Louise Woodward guilty of second-degree murder in the death of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen last February, Judge Hiller Zobel turned the verdict on its head. In a rare and controversial act of judicial veto, he reduced her conviction to involuntary manslaughter and deemed that the 279 days she had served in prison would suffice as a sentence. Woodward was free. The decision elated her supporters--among them the entire village of Elton, England, her hometown--and devastated Matthew's parents, Deborah and Sunil Eappen. On Friday, Deborah Eappen emerged from seclusion to speak to TIME's Terry McCarthy:
TIME: What are your feelings about the judge's ruling?
Eappen: Right now I am very stunned. I can't even process what happened in the last two weeks, in the last nine months. Right now my biggest concern is getting through the day, focusing on Brendan [her other child] and Sunil [her husband]. We haven't been living at home for 2 1/2 weeks; we have been going from place to place, living out of a car, scrambling for clothes. It is hard to know what's important. I feel I'm the judge's victim. Louise took away Matthew, and the judge took away justice. What are we telling people in this case? That if you commit a crime and lie, you get away with it? It really belittles and diminishes the value of Matthew's life. [Is this] a society that views children as dispensable? Children of abuse cannot take the stand, so who is going to speak for them? I was brought up [to believe] that there is right and wrong, that there are actions and consequences.
TIME: Do you think the judge was affected by the publicity?
Eappen: The judge was not sequestered. He was reading papers; he's on the Internet. There is some ego thing going on there--you have to wonder what his underlying biases are. He showed a total lack of understanding of child abuse.
TIME: How do you feel about the negative press coverage of you?
Eappen: I don't think anyone knew the Deborah Eappen they were talking about. People didn't care to find out what I was like; they didn't know who I really was. People are projecting their own guilt and fears onto me. Who can you feel safe to leave your kids with? You cannot trust the people you trust--the day-care attendants, the teachers, the summer-camp minders. It is a reaction that protects them from the fear of something happening to their own kids. We felt it was the best thing to have someone in our house where we could control the environment, where we knew the person, knew her family, knew her friends.
TIME: But in the end you didn't really know her.
Eappen: Right. In the end she pulled a big one over us, and I feel like she's done it to the American public and maybe to the judge himself. The truth is horrible. It is too much to deal with--that someone could be abusive intentionally and, above all, to a baby. You can give excuses for this behavior, but it is still murder. No one can imagine what she was thinking--I wish I could understand it. It is nothing a normal person would do. And it was not a one-time event. She is also responsible for his broken arm. It makes me wonder what else she did to him that didn't leave a mark. This was no accident--a baby who is not ambulatory, who is not walking--there's no other way for him to break an arm.