This month the film “Conviction,” staring Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank portraying real life brother and sister Kenny and Betty Anne Waters, opened in theaters. This moving film is the depiction of Betty Anne’s devotion to exonerate her brother who spent 18 years in prison after being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. The strong acting and believable performances gives justice to the true events the film is based on. Not only that, but it shines light on the injustice often found in legal practice. To fully understand the injustice Kenny Waters experienced, it is important to look at his case.
On May 21, 1980, Katherina Reitz Brow was stabbed to death in her home. Kenny became a suspect because he lived next door. The case remained open for two years, until police arrested Kenny after his girlfriend at the time of the murder provided the police with false claims after they threatened to take her children away. The trial began in May 1983. The fingerprints from the scene of the crime were not provided and Kenny’s alibi of his time card from work went missing. Though there was not sufficient evidence against him, nor DNA evidence, Kenny was convicted on May 11, 1983 and sentenced to life in prison.
Over the next 18 years, Kenny’s case was appealed on multiple occasions. In the mean time, Betty Anne worked her way through college and law school to assist in exonerating her brother. In 2000, Betty Anne began working with the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. They came to an agreement with the court to conduct DNA testing with a private lab. The results excluded Waters as a suspect in Katherina Reitz Brown’s murder, and all charges were dropped in 2001. Sadly Kenny passed away in an accident only 6 months later.
This film really makes us question the fairness of the legal system. Kenny Waters spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. How many more have spent longer then that? How many people are unfairly on death row? As technology evolves, so should the legal system. DNA testing should be used when possible. Without it, Kenny Waters would have died in prison rather then a free and innocent man. For more information on this case and the Innocence Project, visit http://www.innocenceproject.org.