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Woman portrayed in 'Conviction' speaks in Fort Worth

FORT WORTH -- Betty Anne Waters was a high school dropout and waitress when a former neighbor was stabbed to death and her brother was wrongly sent to prison.

Waters' life changed.

She went back to school and became a lawyer so she could work to win her brother's release. That took 18 years.

More recently, Waters told her story to Hilary Swank before the actress portrayed her in the movie Conviction, now in theaters.

She also became part owner of a Bristol, R.I., bar where she had been a waitress while raising her two sons and helping free her brother.

Six months after her brother was finally exonerated in 2001, Waters went to his funeral. Kenneth Waters died of a head injury suffered during a fall.

"Throughout the 18 years, I had a nightmare and a dream," Waters said Tuesday. "The nightmare was that Kenny would die in prison and they would send him home in this ugly pine box.

"The dream was that he was freed, and he rode away from that courtroom in a limousine. And he did.

"Those six months were the happiest of his life. We stayed in a hotel and ordered two steak dinners and he ate them both, and two apple pies a la mode, and he ate both of them."

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and the Amon G. Carter Foundation brought Waters to Fort Worth on Tuesday to talk about her experiences, said Sheila Johnson, who arranged the visit.

In a Catholic Charities conference room, Waters encouraged social workers and community service workers to become aware of shortcomings in the criminal justice system and to try to correct them.

A years-long ordeal

In May 1980 in Ayer, Mass., Katrina Brow was found dead, stabbed more than 30 times in her mobile home.

Kenneth Waters, who lived next door with his girlfriend and her children, was questioned, but after examining his timecards from work and fingerprint evidence, police ruled him out as a suspect, Waters said.

The ordeal began two years later, when a police dispatcher who assisted the Ayer police chief in rape cases became an investigator in the Brow case. She wanted to become a police officer and saw Kenneth Waters' conviction as a career move, Waters said.

Kenneth Waters and the girlfriend had split up. Her new boyfriend went to police to say that Kenneth Waters had told the girlfriend that he had killed Brow. Kenneth Waters denied it, but the investigator told the ex-girlfriend that her children would be taken away if she did not continue to lie, Betty Anne Waters said.

A second woman, a drug and alcohol abuser who had been arrested as a prostitute, testified that Kenneth Waters told her he killed Brow. After she testified, some of the charges against her were dropped, Waters said.

Also, the ambitious investigator told a grand jury that police had no usable fingerprints that could eliminate her brother as a suspect, Waters said.

In May 1983, Kenneth Waters was convicted of armed robbery and murder and sentenced to life in prison.

During the next three years, all of Kenneth Waters' appeals failed. He talked with his sister twice a week, and then the calls suddenly stopped. Waters found out that her brother attempted suicide.

Her brother said he could not handle prison, "unless I would become a lawyer and take his case," Waters said. "I reminded him that I only had a GED at the time, but my brother believed in me more than I believed in myself."

Waters got college and law degrees and passed the Rhode Island bar exam. She re-interviewed witnesses and eventually found out that there was, in fact, a usable bloody print that could be tested for DNA.

She also enlisted the help of the Innocence Project.

Waters found the man who put the fingerprint evidence in a storage building and left it for 20 years. The man argued that he did not come forward because Kenneth Waters was convicted on the basis of his confessions and that the fingerprints did not matter.

Her brother "should have never been arrested," Waters said. "The police chief knew he was innocent. But [the investigator] orchestrated the lies. She should go to jail."

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

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