Conviction: A Local Tale Of Murder And Family

By Jared Bowen

Moviola is an inside look at movies in and around the Hub with WGBH’s Jared Bowen. You hear it during Morning Edition on 89.7 WGBH. In this episode, Jared talks with the real-life subject of Tony Goldwyn’s latest film, Conviction, which opens in theaters on Friday, Oct. 15. It’s a gripping tale of murder and family ties, based on the true story of a Massachusetts brother and sister.  


Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters
Hilary Swank stars as Betty Anne Waters
in the new film Conviction. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

On May 21,1980, Katharina Brow of Ayer, Massachusetts was found dead in her mobile home, beaten and stabbed more than 30 times. The brutal murder shocked the small town in Middlesex County—and would forever reshape the relationship between Kenneth and Betty Anne Waters a brother and sister.

"I knew he was innocent because I know my brother," says Betty Anne Waters, who is portrayed by actress Hilary Swank in the new film Conviction.

While Betty Anne may have been certain of her brother’s innocence, a jury wasn’t.  More than two years after Brow’s murder, Kenneth Waters was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole, for a crime Betty Anne—a married high school drop out with two children—says she knew her brother didn’t commit.

"I knew that my brother was questioned because he was actually in court that morning and I thought they were just harassing him. I knew the whole story. I knew he was at work the night before, I knew he was in court, I knew he had the perfect alibi.  And he was arrested two and half years later, so I always knew from day one that he was innocent."

Betty Anne devoted the next 18 years of her life to exonerating her imprisoned brother.  She completed her GED, got three college degrees and after passing the bar exam in 1998. Her first and only client was her brother, Kenny. And in 2001, thanks to Betty’s determination and new DNA evidence, Kenneth Waters was finally set free.

"It is surreal, absolutely. Along the way I just took one step at a time, one hurdle at a time, never really knowing if I was ever going to finish, or get my brother free. All along the way I was scared to death that it wasn’t gonna happen, so, I’m happy that it happened and that my brother was free," Waters said.

Hilary Swank and Tony Goldwyn in the new film Conviction.
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

Now, their story is the subject of Conviction, opening in theaters nationwide Friday, Oct 15, co-starring Hilary Swank as Sam Rockwell as Kenneth.

Conviction is more than an extraordinary story. As Director Tony Goldwyn says, it is "an in-depth examination of family, and the unique ties that bind a brother and sister."

"I remember when I was a little kid doing a kind of morbid analysis of my life and thinking 'What can I survive without in my life?” says Goldwyn. "Like if my parents died could I survive that? That would be awful, but yeah, I think I probably could. But the one thing I felt I couldn’t survive would be the death of my brother. I just remember that so well. Me and my brother are very close in age, same as Betty Anne and Kenny. We were so close that I felt if he died I’d have to die too, and I know Betty Anne felt that way. Betty Anne will tell you that’s what motivated her, that she promised Kenny that she would go to law school and figure out a way to get him out if he would stay alive."

Hear what Jared and the Moviola producers had to say about Conviction, and whether or not it's worth a trip to the theater.

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