The United States justice system prides itself on its stringent standard of holding individuals “innocent until proven guilty” – yet many people are falsely convicted every year, some being exonerated after decades in prison or even on death row. Take the strange case of Kenneth Waters for example.
The False Conviction
Massachusetts native Kenneth Waters was accused and convicted to life in prison for the murder of his neighbor in 1983 – nearly three years to the day after his neighbor was stabbed repeatedly in her home in Ayer, Massachusetts. Although Kenneth was initially questioned, he provided an alibi, passed a voice stress test and his fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scene. Two years after the tragic stabbing, a man who was living with Kenneth’s former girlfriend offered testimony to police regarding the case in exchange for money, and he testified that Kenneth had told his ex-girlfriend that he had stabbed the neighbor. Despite her reticence, the police were able to get Kenneth’s ex-girlfriend to corroborate this story after threatening to take away her kids and charge her with accessory to murder. Another ex-girlfriend also stated that Waters had admitted to her that he had killed his neighbor, but she only did so after being interrogated by police for three hours, and she later recanted.
At Kenneth’s trial, the fingerprint evidence was not introduced, but a forensic analyst testified that hairs found at the scene of the crime did not match Kenneth’s hair – or the victim’s. Despite this and Kenneth’s previously stated alibi, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In what seems like a Hollywood movie (and indeed the Waters case became the basis for the 2010 film “Conviction” starring Hilary Swank), Kenneth’s sister, Betty Anne Waters, put herself through undergrad and law school in order to prove her brother’s innocence. Kenneth had exhausted all of his appeals by the time his sister was able to get a private lab to test the DNA evidence from the case, ultimately excluding Kenneth from the potential murderers. Kenneth was exonerated soon thereafter as a result – 18 years after he had first entered prison.
The Waters Judgment and Typical Judgments in Massachusetts
A federal judge in Massachusetts ultimately awarded the estate of Kenneth Waters $10.7 million in damages following the wrongful conviction. However, the judgment came after Kenneth had already died in an accident.
Compensation for time wrongly served in prison varies greatly from case to case and from state to state. In Massachusetts the maximum is half a million dollars, regardless of how long the individual was in prison. Massachusetts may also provide rehabilitative services to people who have been exonerated. The amount awarded in the Waters case comes from a civil lawsuit that was brought against the town of Ayer, Massachusetts for the town’s behavior in the case.
If you or a loved one has been injured, Peter Ventura can help. To get a free case evaluation and learn what the next best steps for your particular case are, contact the Worcester law firm of Peter Ventura at 508-755-7535.