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The real life Betty Anne talks about going from house wife to lawyer

10 January 2011

It was my great honour to be able to talk to Betty Anne Waters, the incredible woman whose true story to save her brother from a life without parole prison sentence, has now been turned into the powerful film Conviction.

Housewife Betty Anne spent 13 years going back to school and then training to become a lawyer in order to fight for her brother Kenny Water’s freedom after he was convicted for a murder he did not commit and for which he spent 18 years in prison for.

Here we talk to Betty Anne about her and Kenny’s struggle, how it feels to have Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell portray their story and how the film came about…



Let’s start at the beginning: What were your first reactions after Kenny was arrested, an unbelievable two years after the murder and did you have faith in the justice system at the time?

Actually it was two and a half years later that he was arrested, I could not believe he’d been arrested as he had already been cleared two and a half years before, he wasn’t even a suspect really, it was because he had a police record and lived close to the victim, it wasn’t like he had a connection to the crime, it was just a routine thing, they checked out his alibi fully and then two and a half years later of course I was surprised. I did have faith in the justice system because I thought only guilty people are in prison and I think differently now, and for years I thought I was alone in thinking that, my brothers in jail, and people look at me like “Sure he’s innocent, he’s in jail” and now I know over 270 people in the US have been exonerated through DNA evidence.


Can you tell us about how turning your story into a film came about?

During those three months that Kenny was home, he would answer the phone and Hollywood was calling, I would come home and he would say “I think they’re gonna make a movie about you” and I would say “No they’re not Kenny, stop answering the phone” and he would laugh of course and not answer the phone, and after months of people calling and calling I figured I had to be proactive, because they might make a movie and it won’t look like the real thing. So I called my friend Barry Scheck, who knew people in the movie business, besides being a great DNA person, he also knows people in the movie business! So he called his friend Andy Karsch who was one of the producers, and me, myself and my friend Abra (Betty Anne’s friend she made in Law school, played by Minnie Driver in the film) went to New York and talked to Andy and we just loved him, he said “Kenny is a character to be reckoned with” Before that people had been saying “Oh Betty Anne, Betty Anne” and I would say to them “What about my brother, he was the one who spent 18 years in prison.” So Andy was the first one to recognise that and that Kenny needed to be portrayed properly and I was sold.


How did you you feel about Hilary Swank playing you in the film and was any one else considered for the role that you’re aware of?

There were several other people considered along the way, but I never really payed much attention, because I’m the sort of person that until I know for sure I’m not going to talk about it or think about it, and she (Hilary Swank) was the first one I got really excited about.


Whose idea was it for you to become a lawyer? I read it was actually Kenny’s, had it ever crossed your mind and did you think Kenny was asking too much, or did you trust his belief in you?

It was Kenny’s idea, but in the movie they had it as my idea, but we were actually on the phone, it was after he lost his appeal and he was very suicidal, and I hadn’t talked to him in a while because in prison they punish you for trying to commit suicide, so they put him in isolation and he wasn’t allowed to call me or anyone for a month. It was a horrible month, and when I did talk to him, I was very upset with him, but how can you be upset with someone who is in prison? He told me he wasn’t going to make it in prison as an innocent man, then he said “Unless you Betty Anne, go back to school, become my lawyer, you’ll prove my innocence, I know you will.”  I told Kenny that all I had was a General Equivalency Diploma which is where if you don’t graduate High School you take a test afterwards, and so I had to start from square one, and get an undergrad and all of that, which I told him could take years but he said he didn’t care how long it took, if I made that promise that was enough for him.


I heard the film wasn’t shot in Ayer, how do you feel your home town was represented?

It was filmed in a lot of places and I feel Ayer was well represented, because it’s a crazy home town, the cops and the people. Nancy Taylor the cop, in particular (played by Melissa Leo) was a very bad cop, it doesn’t show it in the film, but there were fingerprints involved that she knew about, she was just nasty, she knew from day one that Kenny was innocent and she did it to other people too.



I hate to ask this, but did you ever reach a point when you lost hope and wanted to quit, and what kept you going after so many setbacks?

Kenny’s faith in me was unbelievable, he had more faith in me than I had in myself, there were times where I wish I could do it faster, but I was a single Mum with two kids, things were tough at times but never did I say I’m not going to do this, and I always kept doing something.


Did you feel that Sam Rockwell represented your brother accurately and were you pleased with how he was portrayed despite their obvious physical differences?

At first I had only seen Sam Rockwell in the Green Mile, and I thought how is this gonna work out, he looked too good in that movie, but after meeting him and seeing how dedicated he was, I didn’t even know it until I had seen the movie that he really captured Kenny very well and all the different sides of him.


The final version of the film is phenomenal and will be well received but were there any instances where you were consulted in the editing and things had to be changed?

It ran rather smoothly, I was on set a lot and they asked me a lot of questions about different feelings.


How did Kenny finally celebrate after his release and was it like he’d never been away, and did he just blend back into the family?

Kenny was amazing, when we talked to him on the phone, it was like you were talking to the guy next door, as if he wasn’t in prison, he knew all the family problems, all the things that were going on, we talked about everything and he tried to solve all our problems, he was really something else. When he was released, he was having a ball. We did all the morning shows, we did Oprah, he would talk to anybody that would listen, and lots of people listened, believe me. I remember him calling me one night about midnight “Betty Anne, Betty Anne, these people wanna meet you.” People I’d never heard of, and he’s be saying to them, come and meet my sister and I would be saying “I’m sleeping!”  


You are now working pro bono with The Innocence Project, the project that ultimately was the key to Kenny’s freedom, have there been positive changes in the American legal system that Kenny’s case and others like his have highlighted the injustices?

I’m really not sure exactly, but I do know there wasn’t an “Innocence Project” in Oklahoma and now there will be, due to anonymous donations being made. I’m just waiting for the day that someone calls me and says “Because of this movie, I did something that set another person free”.


We’re from The Fan Carpet what are you a fan of, it can be anything, films, actors, TV?

Well right now I’m with my grandson, and he’s ten months old and I love him to pieces, oh and I watch all of the CSI programmes!


Well thanks very much for talking with us Betty Anne, it’s been a real honour talking to you.




Conviction Film Page | Hilary Swank Photo Library | Sam Rockwell Photo Library