BALLINCOLLIG, Ireland — On most days, Aisling Brady McCarthy goes for a walk in this quiet, well-kept suburb with Addie, her terrier lab.
Addie was about the only thing McCarthy brought back with her after living in and around Boston for 15 years. All her possessions remained behind in the house she rented with her husband, Don, in the Wollaston section of Quincy.
She couldn't get out of Boston fast enough. Who could blame her?
She was locked up for more than two years for something the evidence says she didn't do, facing life in prison, accused of killing a 1-year-old girl in her care. When Middlesex prosecutors finally acknowledged the evidence against her didn't stand up, McCarthy was deported back to Ireland.
She flew home in September with her sister Sharon, who lives in Braintree. For the first hour of the flight, they just held hands and cried.
After she landed in Shannon, reporters followed her everywhere, but she said nothing. While reporters camped outside her mother's house in Cavan, she and Don snuck away to her sister's house in Galway. They celebrated their third anniversary, the first one when she wasn't in jail, with a quiet dinner at an Italian restaurant.
"We were home by 10," she says. "Don and I are not ones for going out much."
Don found work house painting in his native Cork, and it was just as well, because Aisling didn't want to spend the rest of her life in Cavan, explaining over and over again to people she knew what had happened to her in Boston
"I have no choice but to move on," she said, over tea, at the kitchen table of her sister-in-law's house. "I have changed. I don't trust people like I used to. You're nearly afraid to get to know people because they'll say, 'Oh, you're the girl from Boston.' It makes me want to cut my hair off and dye it black."
She hasn't been able to find work.
"I was a nanny. I'm not going to do that again," she said. "Who's going to want to hire a 37-year-old who's been out of the country for 15 years?"
Three years ago, Rehma Sabir, the baby girl McCarthy had been taking care of for months, died, and in just a few days Dr. Alice Newton had diagnosed the baby as a victim of violent head trauma, and 10 police officers showed up at McCarthy's house in Wollaston to arrest her. Don was at work. The cops wouldn't let her change out of her pajamas. They wouldn't let her leave Addie some water.
She was thrown into prison in Framingham, surrounded by many women who had been in prison before. Being labeled a baby killer is the worst thing in a women's jail.
"I was terrified," she said. "I wouldn't come out of my cell."
She got lucky when a pair of lawyers named David Meier and Mindy Thompson took her case. They were fearless. They were relentless. And they eventually were able to show the case against Aisling Brady McCarthy was no case at all.
As Meier and Thompson exposed the rush to judgment against McCarthy, and the case against her began to collapse, she gained a certain status among her fellow prisoners. They believed she was innocent and high-fived her when passing. McCarthy tried to use her status to stop other prisoners from attacking Pallavi Macharla, a Burlington woman accused of killing a 6-month-old child she was minding.
"I couldn't believe they put her in general population," she said. "They were spitting at her."
McCarthy got cards and letters from all over the world, and from the families of children she had taken care of over the years.
"That's what kept me going," she said. "That and the support of my family."
One family brought the little girls she had minded into the prison to visit her. Some of her former employers were prepared to testify about her character on her behalf. Neither police nor prosecutors talked to any of these people before or after she was charged.
Had they done so, they would have realized that what they were accusing Aisling Brady McCarthy of doing was so out of character, that a nanny of so much experience would not lose her head over a sickly, colicky baby.
She grieves for Rehma, the little girl whose cause of death remains a mystery.
"I looked after Rehma 10 hours a day, five days a week," she said. "I stayed over to help her sleep train. I've been looking after kids since I was 13. I had seven younger brothers and sisters. I started with a family in Lexington with seven kids. I always got work by word of mouth."
After McCarthy was released, Mindy Thompson, the lawyer McCarthy calls "my guardian angel," came to Ireland to visit. Thompson was greeted by the locals like a rock star. People lined up to hug her.
Christmas was magic. McCarthy's two brothers came back from Australia. She is one of 10 siblings, and it was the first time in 15 years the whole family was together for Christmas.
"Mammy was in her glory," she says.
She misses Boston. But she doesn't think she could ever go back. Elsewhere in America? Maybe. New York? Maybe. But that's moot at this point, as she is banned from returning to the United States for 10 years because she overstayed her visa and lived in the country illegally all those years.
She tries not to dwell on the fact that she lost more than two years of her life, but wants Dr. Alice Newton, the doctor who first implicated her in the death of Rehma Sabir, and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and prosecutors who a judge found withheld exculpatory evidence, held accountable. Newton and Ryan have defended their actions.
"They weren't just wrong in my case, they were reckless," McCarthy says. "And they never lost a minute's sleep. They just moved on to the next case. I want to expose this because I don't want it to happen to anyone else."
This isn't over. Aisling Brady McCarthy is planning to use the civil courts to expose what happened to her in a criminal court. Hers is just one of several cases of shaken-baby syndrome in Middlesex County and elsewhere that have collapsed in a heap of shaky evidence and conflicting medical diagnoses.
She is torn by her desire to move on and a compulsion to use her case to show how unchecked power can needlessly ruin lives.
"If I don't let go, it will consume me," she said. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I want to move on."
She went to Bible study in jail and came out more spiritual. She goes to Mass regularly, sometimes on weekdays. She's less concerned with material things.
"What happened to me has given me a new perspective," she said. "When I was in prison, I had a loving family that came to see me. I called my husband twice a day. Some of the girls had nobody. Some people have nothing. No matter what, your life is always better than someone else's."