In 1980, the quiet town of Ayer, Massachusetts was rocked by an unsolved murder.
A woman named Katharina Brow was found robbed and murdered in her home, and police guessed the culprit worked at a nearby diner. Their prime suspect was Kenneth Waters, who worked as a cook at the diner and lived next door to Brow.
Waters was interrogated by police, but they had to release him because he had a strong alibi. There was some physical evidence at the scene of the crime, so the police should have been able to track down the real killer, but years later the murderer was still at large.
That's when new witnesses stepped forward, offering information to the police in exchange for a cash reward. The new testimony pinned the crime on Waters, and he was convicted of robbery and murder in 1983.
Life in prison was difficult for Waters, and he tried to commit suicide. While he was recovering, his sister Betty Anne visited him and asked him not to harm himself again. He promised to stay strong, but asked Betty Anne to do something in return.
He wanted her to go back to school, become a lawyer and help get him out of jail...
Growing up in a house with nine children, being born a year apart meant that Kenneth and Betty Anne were close friends.
They had gotten into trouble together as kids, but Betty Anne never believed that her brother would rob and murder someone. But when Kenneth asked her to help him, she was a waitress with two kids and only a GED. Becoming a lawyer must have seemed impossible.
Still, a promise is a promise. Waters went to night school at the Community College of Rhode Island, then enrolled in the Roger Williams University School of Law. It was difficult, but every step towards her law degree felt like she was closer to helping her brother. “He always made me feel like I could be anything, do anything,” she said.
Meanwhile, Betty Anne had problems of her own to deal with. She was raising two sons and going through a messy divorce while getting her education. It took determination and patience, but she finally earned her law degree.
As soon as she was qualified, Waters started writing letters to the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “The letters were pretty extraordinary,” Project Innocence Founder Barry Scheck said, “because she’s explaining that she went to college and law school to get her brother out of jail. That makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. That’s all that she did it for.”
Scheck realized something was fishy with Kenneth's case, and invited Betty Anne to help him work on it...
From top to bottom, Kenneth's case was a textbook example of bad police work.
DNA evidence which proved Kenneth wasn't the perpetrator was ignored and destroyed, and witnesses had been pressured by police into making false statements against him. Officers even threatened to take one woman's kids away if she didn't play along.
After 18 years behind bars, the conclusive DNA evidence was enough to set Kenneth free. Betty Anne had fulfilled the promise she made almost two decades earlier. “She did not become a lawyer to be a lawyer," Sheck said, "she became a lawyer to get her brother out of jail.”
Sadly, in a cruel twist of fate, Kenneth died in an accident just 6 months after he was released. He was taking a shortcut home in the dark when he fell and struck his head. It was bad luck, but Betty Anne takes it in stride. “Kenny had the best six months of his life," she said. "After so many years behind bars, the world was new to him.”
While her incredible true story was turned into the Hollywood movie Conviction, starring Hillary Swank, Betty Anne is 56 now and happy to stay out of the spotlight. “I’m not going to say this is fun for me; I’ve had fun moments,” she said during the press tour. “I’m tired right now. I could never keep this
Today, Waters works as a restaurant manager. But she did pick up her briefcase one last time when her restaurant's liquor license was being revoked. She won, of course.
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