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Conviction
March 24, 2011 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Betty Anne Waters's brother Kenny was sent to prison for first degree murder and armed robbery in 1982. Over the next 16 years, Betty Anne got her GED, college degree, and law degree, all in an effort to prove Kenny was innocent. With the assistance of the Innocence Project, Betty Anne was able to use DNA evidence to show Kenny was innocent.

While the movie has a happy ending, real life isn't so simple. A few months after his release, Kenny died, and one of Betty Anne's sisters is accusing Betty Anne of overstating her role in freeing Kenny.
posted by reenum (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also.
posted by kmz at 5:13 PM on March 24, 2011


Quick question, and this isn't meant as snark, but why isn't there a body in the executive branch tasked with double-checking the DNA of felony murder charges with hefty sentences?

Can't we do a few batches a day?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 5:17 PM on March 24, 2011


given that the current House is essentially trying to strip all funding for everything related to lower income Americans, or placing more obstacles in their way I do not foresee anything like justice for those unable to pay as being of any concern any time soon. Yeah, we can send cruise missiles to help out the Libyans, but not funding a handful of those missiles to pay for anything in America relating to the lower class is unheard of.
posted by edgeways at 5:22 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


why isn't there a body in the executive branch tasked with double-checking the DNA of felony murder charges with hefty sentences?

Because people in power in the U.S. don't want to spend money helping people who they or their constituents regard as criminals.
posted by The World Famous at 5:25 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


why isn't there a body in the executive branch tasked with double-checking the DNA of felony murder charges with hefty sentences?

No profit motive. Innocent people don't provide government subsidies for the prison industrial complex.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:33 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a shame that courts aren't required to preserve evidence. The only argument for destroying it seems to be financial - it costs too much to store boxes of evidence. But if you think about it, the savings when a single wrongly-convicted prisoner is released must outweigh the storage costs for many, many, properly-convicted criminals. There are ethical and moral reasons too, of course, but I thought I'd raise the financial argument because so few people care about the other ones.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:37 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


why isn't there a body in the executive branch tasked with double-checking the DNA of felony murder charges with hefty sentences?
Fuck you. Got mine.
posted by lost_cause at 5:44 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the people who screwed it up and sent someone not guilty of the crime charged* locked away for years - what's gonna happen to the people who made "misstatements" under oath? What's the downside to screwing up?

prison industrial complex

http://www.dunwalke.com/

*Mr. Walters may have been guilty of other crimes - he may have had a long rap sheet, but even if he was a 1st class bastard that is not the issue...the issue is the crime charged.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2011


Quick question, and this isn't meant as snark, but why isn't there a body in the executive branch tasked with double-checking the DNA of felony murder charges with hefty sentences?

Communist. You just want government to take over everything.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:04 PM on March 24, 2011


I wonder what she would have done if she found out he was guilty?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2011


I wonder how I would have felt if I had that pizza for lunch instead of the chicken taco?
posted by edgeways at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2011


I just watched this movie on a plane, teared up, and this isn't helping. Poor Kenny, he got the shit end of a brutal system.
posted by hepta at 6:20 PM on March 24, 2011


Classic mistake: Never stay in a town where you're too poor to bribe the police.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:23 PM on March 24, 2011


Anyone know if the Innocence Project a good charity to donate to? They don't have a Charity Navigator page yet. I've been all worked up about it since the last thread, but that article didn't really leave me with a great impression of them.
posted by danny the boy at 6:38 PM on March 24, 2011


Joe in Australia: Throwing away the evidence means less likelihood of a conviction being overturned on re-examination of that evidence later. That means fewer cases where a wrongly-convicted person gets free and sues the State. Economically, throwing away the evidence is win-win!
posted by agentofselection at 6:42 PM on March 24, 2011


See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/us/19DNA.html

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_profiling#Familial_searching

So, if you are in prison, they can match your DNA against open cases. Sometimes, it is clear that the DNA sample from the crime is not from the inmate but from within the inmate's family. This evidence is then used to pursue a suspect from within the family. This is from the wikipedia write up of the Grim Sleeper case:

"Police eventually located similar DNA belonging to Franklin's son, Christopher, who had been convicted of a felony weapons charge. According to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, detectives then used a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin's DNA to make the link. One Los Angeles undercover police officer pretended to be a waiter at a restaurant where the suspect ate. He collected dishes, silverware, glasses, and pizza crusts to obtain DNA.[15] The identification was used to arrest Franklin after his DNA was obtained and deemed a match.[6] Saliva found on victims' breasts was used to obtain a DNA match thus linking Franklin to the murders"
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:44 PM on March 24, 2011


accusing Betty Anne of overstating her role

This thread is, of course, a very serious discussion of a very serious matter, but I couldn't help cracking up at Sir Reginald Stinkface glaring at the camera in the background of this article's image...
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:51 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


"...A few months after his release, Kenny died..."

You bastards!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ian A.T.: "This thread is, of course, a very serious discussion of a very serious matter, but I couldn't help cracking up at Sir Reginald Stinkface glaring at the camera in the background of this article's image.."

That cat is angry because he didn't get any credit, either. He was doing work on the ground, he didn't need a law degree or opposable thumbs.
posted by autoclavicle at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Anyone know if the Innocence Project a good charity to donate to? "

Most branches (all branches?) are affiliated with and funded through universities, typically the law school but a few journalism departments/schools as well. Sometimes a partnership of the two. The branch at my law school didn't independently fundraise; we were funded partly by the school, partly by an outside entity answerable to the state supreme court that investigated claims of innocence, and partly by direct donations through the law school. But mostly all we needed money for, at that stage, was Xeroxing and postage, plus the little room in the law school for our files.

Cases that were reviewed and found plausibly innocent went on to the next stage, which involved investigative journalism students from a nearby university, overseen by professors and volunteering pro journalists, and legal appeal framing, done by attorney volunteers assisted by law students.

By time anything started to get expensive and need things like DNA testing or lots of lawyer time, it had also typically started to get sexy and attention-grabbing and some white-shoe firm was salivating to take it on pro bono for the glory and fund those bits. But if not there were various avenues for seeking necessary funding, including the courts themselves.

Anyway, you could donate to a law school with an innocence project and earmark your donation, or you could donate to an organization that helps the incarcerated or that helps typical victims of crimes. I mostly reviewed murder convictions that were allegedly wrongful, and the victims were mostly abused women and young children. You could donate to a shelter.

In my year reviewing cases, I found two where I thought there clearly wasn't enough evidence for the conviction, and a third that was questionable. Of the two, it seemed literally physically impossible for him to have committed the crime (railroaded by small-town cops who weren't going to arrest the high school quarterback who seemed the likeliest suspect, of all things ... it was like a bad movie) and that one went on for investigation. The other one there clearly wasn't enough evidence to convict the woman, but she still totally could have done it. That one was tabled for later re-review but it didn't seem like a good candidate due to the lack of witnesses or contradictory evidence.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:16 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't we do a few batches a day?

Quite honestly, the majority of crime labs across the country seem to have serious backlogs on the order of weeks to months with the tests required for criminal trials already.

Additionally, our adversarial system of justice places the burden of overturning a conviction on the convicted.
posted by dhartung at 11:57 PM on March 24, 2011


Thanks for sharing your insight, Eyebrows. The parent org has a donation page, and I'll look into the other suggestions you made.
posted by danny the boy at 2:41 AM on March 25, 2011


Sometimes, it is clear that the DNA sample from the crime is not from the inmate but from within the inmate's family. This evidence is then used to pursue a suspect from within the family.

See, that's why I can't have children. I've been so careful and one screwup from Junior could bring it all crashing down on me.
posted by graventy at 6:05 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


My wife and I finally watched Conviction just last night. I haven't really followed the Waters case in real life, so the whole time I was thinking he would get shanked or something right before he was released. Turns out I wasn't that far off. Dude totally got screwed by the system.

My wife and I laughed when they showed the picture at the end of the real-life Waters siblings, in which they show us that Kenny looks absolutely nothing like Sam Rockwell. We were not expecting that at all.
posted by mysterpigg at 7:31 AM on March 25, 2011


The fact that they have to fight get this evidences tested is beyond fucked up.

One interesting case, in Dallas the DA ran for office promising to actually double check this stuff rather then try to prevent it from being double checked. As a result, a bunch of innocent people got released.
posted by delmoi at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2011


My question going into this was, Really? Spending a decade and however much money getting degrees is the best way to exonerate her brother? After all, even after she finally got her law degree, it seems there would still be thousands of people better situated and qualified to work on a case like this. But reading the background, it seems pretty clear that the real crux of the story is she did it to keep her brother from killing himself. That is a pretty intense devotion, and makes me wonder what kind of sour grapes could possibly make her other family members go to the press claiming "Betty Anne didn't REALLY help out THAT MUCH."
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:50 AM on March 25, 2011


Six months after Mr. Waters was freed, he fell off a wall while taking a shortcut home through the dark, hit his head and died.

what I just don't
posted by gottabefunky at 9:37 AM on March 25, 2011


The profit motive for clearing out the backlog would be in what we would save by not keeping wrongfully imprisoned people in prison.

The Founders put in place an awful lot of measures on the premise that it was better to let a doubtfully guilty person go free than to put a doubtfully guilty person in prison.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2011


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