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The Point With Greta Van Susteren
New Evidence and a New Life: Sister's Crusade Overturns Brother's Murder ConvictionAired March 15, 2001 - 8:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: THE POINT with Greta Van Susteren.
Convicted of murder, locked up since the '80s, today he's free.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNETH WATERS: It's been 19 years and my whole family suffered unbelievable, and we're all just happy today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: A story of family love and loyalty, and a sister who became a lawyer and found the evidence that freed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETTY ANN WATERS, SISTER: I have eight brothers and sisters, and I feel like we've all felt like we've been in jail for 20 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Tonight's POINT: new evidence and a new life.
And what could be worse than an airline delay? How about landing at the wrong airport.
Now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Do you get along with your brothers and sisters? How far would you go to help one of them? And I mean something way beyond lending money or watching their kids. How about putting yourself through law school, and turning detective and lawyer to help get your brother out of jail, even if it takes 20 years?
Yes, there is someone who has done that!
Tonight's "Flashpoint": new evidence and a new life. CNN Boston bureau chief Bill Delaney has a story about what going the extra mile really means.
BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mother's love for a son she never gave up on, never believing Kenneth Waters could have killed. A sister's love, though, Betty Ann Water's love -- what's meant freedom for Kenneth Waters who's now been released from prison, 19 years after he was convicted of first-degree murder.
KENNETH WATERS: It's great to be free. I got a new name when I was in there, and everybody calls me Muddy Waters. Seems like I've been living the blues for the last 19 years.
BETTY ANN WATERS: It's been awful. I mean it's -- I have eight brothers and sisters, and I feel like we've all felt like we've been in jail for almost 20 years.
DELANEY: A sentenced ended because Betty Ann Waters decided to take on the system from the inside. After her brother's conviction of murdering a woman, a family friend Betty Ann went back to college and got her law degree. Divorced, raising two children, she supported herself waitressing.
B. WATERS: I never understood how he was even charged. And then he was convicted, so I needed to learn what was going on. And I didn't know any other way to do it.
DELANEY: By 1998, Betty Ann, by then her brother's lawyer, linked up with lawyer Barry Scheck of the renowned Innocence Project. Together they unearthed a blood sample amid evidence used to convict Waters in a cardboard box in a court-room basement. The blood didn't match Kenneth Water's DNA.
K. WATERS: Pretty scary, pretty scary, something like this can happen, devastating an entire family.
DELANEY: Waters is not a completely free man. He's been released on personal recognizance, not exonerated and could be retried.
DELANEY: For all the hard work that went into Kenneth Waters' release, there was a lot of luck involved. The blood evidence -- that DNA evidence that was so critical in all this wasn't discovered more than 15 years after his conviction. Now, by law, that evidence could have been destroyed 10 years after his conviction. Because nobody got around to doing that, Kenneth Waters is today out of jail -- Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, why was he the target to begin with? What was the evidence.
DELANEY: Back in 1980, Kenneth Waters -- and I think the family pretty freely admits this -- was something of a trouble maker. He was facing assault charges of a police officer at the time in the town of Ayer, Massachusetts, where the murder occurred, so he came under suspicion because he knew the murdered woman.
It wasn't until another two years Greta, that he was actually arrested, but soon after the arrest, a former girlfriend came out and said, he had told her he committed the murder. Then at trial, another girlfriend -- in fact, the mother of his daughter -- said she too had heard from Kenneth that he committed the murder. There was another women, a friend of the murdered woman, that said Waters had sold some of the murdered woman's jewelry.
So there was some evidence out there making Kenneth Waters looking quite suspicious and of course, eventually, he was convicted. But all along, Greta, the family was absolutely clear in their minds he was innocent. They say he was defended badly by a public defender, that, for example, time sheet records from his job were never introduced into evidence that might have cleared him that might have shown he was at work at the time of the murder -- Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: So Bill, do they now consider it an open case and the police now actively looking for a killer?
DELANEY: Yes. We are hearing about a search for the real killer. Barry Scheck says he is convinced they will find the real killer and one reason is, that Betty Ann Waters, now an attorney, has some leads and they are very much a killer out there, and that they will find him or her.
VAN SUSTEREN: Many thanks to CNN Boston bureau chief Bill Delaney.
His family's love makes Kenneth Waters' story unforgettable. But DNA testing also played a vital role in the Waters case and in many others. Joining me to discuss how the wrong people can be locked up and how difficult it is to set things right, are one of Waters' attorneys, Robert Feldman. He takes cases for the New England Innocence Project.
Also in Boston is "Boston Herald" reporter Dave Wedge, who's been covering the Waters story.
And in Montgomery, Alabama, is Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people in prison. He's also a law professor at New York University.
Thank you all for joining me this evening.
Rob, first to you, the idea that Bill said that this is not an exoneration that he is out. Explain where the case stands and why this isn't an exoneration.
ROBERT FELDMAN, ATTORNEY: Sure, Greta. First of all, this is a wonderful day obviously to the Waters family. After 18 years, Kenneth walked out of the courthouse a free man. I'm not at liberty, of course, to comment on all the evidence because the district attorney's office has indicated -- as you reported -- that Mr. Waters is still under investigation.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why did they let him out then? I mean, if he's still under investigation -- Bill Delaney says there was evidence at the trial, whether it's true or not, he made statements implicating himself and that he sold some of the jewelry, why would the court release him?
FELDMAN: I think it's a testament to the power of the evidence that we were able to bring forward and present to the district attorney. I think it is a sure sign that they may well be as confident as we are, that Mr. Waters indeed is not the killer. They have agreed they will pursue searching of the DNA data bank to find out if there is a match out there, someone other than Mr. Waters.
Another point, of course, is that typically we find in these cases where prosecutors build up a case to convict an individual, the case begins to come down like a house of cards, once the DNA component shows that there is this other blood evidence, for example -- other biological evidence at the scene that doesn't match the convicted individual.
VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, you have covered this case. How much resistance did the prosecution put up in terms of fighting the Waters family and his sister Betty Ann tried to do?
DAVE WEDGE, "BOSTON HERALD": Virtually none, as attorney Feldman said. It's very compelling evidence and it's -- DNA evidence is really irrefutable.
The district attorney, Martha Coakley, recognizes that and they did not oppose his motion for a new trial and did not oppose any bail. Then didn't did for bail and was released with conditions of staying in touch with probation, which is a pretty normal for people released on personal recognizance in Massachusetts.
VAN SUSTEREN: David, is it pretty well accepted that there was only one killer involved or could there have been two?
WEDGE: Well, the DNA evidence is irrefutable, as I said, and there was blood found on the walls of the victim's home and it was also found in a closet. The theory is that the killer was cut during the murder and was rifling through some things and got blood on some towels and some linens and the walls and that blood is not Kenneth Waters's -- that is undeniable at this point.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bryan, you have been doing a lot of these death penalty cases for years. My experience always was is that prosecutors resist DNA testing, that it's an uphill battle. This sounds like the prosecutors were much more agreeable. Is it your experience that there's resistant to DNA testing?
BRYAN STEVENSON, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: I think there is, but what is interesting about this case is that it's a real fortuity that the biological evidence that was tested -- that resulted in this release was still available. Not only do many prosecutors and law enforcement agencies resist this kind of testing, but many are quite anxious to destroy biological evidence at the earliest possible moment. I think that is one of the obstacles that people face when they are trying to prove their innocence through DNA testing.
VAN SUSTEREN: Brian, I have never been able to figure out what it is but can you perhaps take a look at what prosecutors say? Why do they resist this? If they can show perhaps, that someone is wrongfully in prison, sometimes on death row facing execution, what is the rub about this testing?
STEVENSON: Well, I think it's mostly admitting that our system is flawed and we really cannot in many of these cases reliably determine who is guilty and who is not. I mean, when you look at what's been going on in a broader contest, over the last 20 years, we have made it infinitely easier for innocent people to wrongly convicted and much harder for wrongly convicted people to be released or obtain relief. And people close to the system know that they hate to be exposed for that, and there are these obstacles.
The other thing that tends to show up in these cases is that -- it means basically that we have allowed someone who has committed a terrible crime to get away, because we focused on the wrong individual, and we then hid the fact that we were uncertain about some things. Everybody seems implicated.
Challenging that I think means challenging this larger culture where we have been sort of convinced that we can reliably put people in prison, put people on death row, execute them and assure people that it's working just fine. Lots of folks have a hard time admitting that it's not working fine.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's been a long time since I've looked at this, but what does it cost these days for DNA testing, because I know that's at least one of the complaints prosecutors make, that it's too costly.
STEVENSON: Well, it's not very costly at all. In fact, there are a lot of labs and agencies that will provide testing, particularly for people who have been in prison and folks that are on death row at virtually no cost.
The bigger cost is finding a lawyer -- I mean, I think what's wonderful about this story is that people -- I believe that if you make DNA testing available to people in prison, we are going to solve a lot of cases. We will not. If we do not provide lawyers to folks, if we do not provide people with the resources they need to get the evidence, to identify the evidence, DNA testing it not worth very much.
And so, the bigger cost is getting resources to people in prison so that they can access this information adequately.
VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, always the investigation ends when someone is put in prison and there's theoretic -- if someone is wrongfully convicted, the killer it out there, and no one is doing anything to find that killer.
Rob, let me ask you about your client's other lawyer, Betty Ann, what is she like?
FELDMAN: She really is an amazing woman, and the -- really -- there are a couple of stories here. Of course, one is Ken Waters' fortitude to survive 18 years in prison, realizing -- knowing he was innocent, and having to deal with that.
But there's also the story of Betty Ann's courage, as you had mentioned, raising two children, putting herself through law school, fighting all the way for her brother. She is an amazing woman, and it's a really wonderful story.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you get to tell client, Kenneth Waters, and did you get to tell Betty Ann, or who got to tell them that the prosecution wasn't going to oppose, and so he would be released?
FELDMAN: Barry Scheck was able to make that call. There were a series of phone calls Tuesday evening after we received information from District Attorney Martha Coakley that they would not oppose our motion, and I spoke with Betty Ann shortly thereafter, and she said she wasn't going to be able to sleep. And indeed, I talked to her the next day, and she said that she hadn't slept a wink all night.
VAN SUSTEREN: What about Kenneth Waters' parents? Often times, people in jail long time lose their parents. Are they still living?
FELDMAN: His mother was there today in the courthouse, and she kept saying that today was -- she was so proud of her son and her daughter today, which I guess, only a mother can say in a situation like that.
She believed in her son all along, and had tears in her eyes all day today.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we have to take a break. My thanks to Robert Feldman, Dave Wedge and Bryan Stevenson.
In a minute, I'll talk with a man who went to jail, but was proven innocent by DNA testing. THE POINT returns in just a minute.
VAN SUSTEREN: In 1990, Neil Miller was convicted of rape, robbery and a series of other felonies that put him in prison for 10 to 25 years. He said he was innocent, and thanks to DNA testing, he was cleared, but not until he'd served 10 years behind bars. Neil Miller joins us from Boston.
Neil, what happened? How did you get convicted if you are not guilty?
NEIL MILLER: Well, victim -- the victim identified me as her assailant. She wasn't really certain if I was the person, but she acted -- at trial, in my opinion, she was sort of coerced into believing that I what the one (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
VAN SUSTEREN: Neil, are you mad you spent 10 years behind bars wrongfully?
MILLER: Yeah. I'm very -- I'm very, very angry about it. Very -- I mean, I try not to show that I am angry, I try to smile and be happy, but as of late, all that built-up and pent-up anger has been bringing me to a level where it's hard to cope now and talk, you know, in an orderly manner with my family, my friends and my loved one, because it seems every little small thing gets me upset, and it all comes back to the 10 years that I have lost with them, although I'm trying too hard to make it up with them.
VAN SUSTEREN: What was it like, Neil, when you went to prison 10 years ago, and you kept telling everybody you were innocent, and basically, the rest of the world said, tough pal, you got 10 years, you are guilty.
MILLER: Well, people in there can be very harsh. And one thing about being in jail, that everyone says, if you're in there, you did it. There is no if, ands, no buts, everybody says they are innocent, but if you are in there, you did it.
And it's sad -- I'm sorry -- it's sad to think like that, and sad for people to have to have that mind-set, and there are times even now, when I'm walking down street, and I see someone that maybe staring at me, I think to myself, are they looking at me, do they realize or know that I was a person in jail, and are they thinking and feeling the same as those who were in jail are thinking and feeling of me back then.
VAN SUSTEREN: What did you miss in that 10 years of -- in prison? What happened in your life outside prison you never got to experience?
MILLER: Bringing my daughter to her first day of school. And doing the same with my nieces and nephews, being there for my little sister's 12th grade graduation. Just so many things, just so many things that I've missed that I know I can't rush and make up for them now, and it's hurting me because I'm trying to, and that -- it's bringing a problem into my life by my trying so hard to make up for all these -- them years that I've missed.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have -- when did you get out of prison, first of all, and secondly, do you have a job, or have you had a difficulty getting a job because you did 10 years in prison wrongfully?
MILLER: I have -- I have been out since May 10th of 2000. And at first, the seeing kind of the first five places I went to, which were Stop and Shop, a Burger King, sneakers store, athletic footwear store. They all -- and I had a paper that my lawyer -- my appeals attorney, Nona Walker, has given me to show that I have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and that I should be looked as a person who is a citizen and not as a convicted felon.
But none of them really gave me that opportunity, except for the Stop and Shop warehouse where I used to work until I hurt my leg, and I have been out of work ever since then.
VAN SUSTEREN: Have you -- has anyone given you any compensation for the time you've spent in prison -- the 10 years for rape and robbery? Has the state given you any compensation, or are you able to collect any money for that? MILLER: Well, in the process of filing a lawsuit, and the state -- there's a state legislator who has been very kind to me by the name of Frank Hines of Plymouth. He has been very kind in trying to help push for a bill for me to get so that I can be compensated. And I just came from the state House today to speak on why myself, as well as others who are out now, and who have been out before me, should be fully compensated with something -- some sum of money so that we can get our lives back together.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, my thanks...
MILLER: I mean, because it is a difficult -- I'm sorry.
VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead. You were it's difficult.
MILLER: It is a difficult journey out here to try to put your life back together, even if you have the support of friends and family, it's still very difficult. Especially if you have the pain of still being in there...
VAN SUSTEREN: Unfortunately, I have cut you off. My thanks to Neil Miller, but we don't have any more time.
MILLER: OK, thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Next: Going the extra mile for airline passengers. THE POINT returns after a break and our "MONEYLINE" update.
VAN SUSTEREN: Here's a solution to a particularly annoying problem.
Tonight's "Final Point": going the extra mile. It's no secret that airlines are at war with consumers. And now Capitol Hill has joined the battle. Today the House Transportation Committee pressed the major airlines to work on a solution to passengers' No. 1 complaint: delays. Late departures, late arrivals, and lots of sitting around.
It's been so frustrating, and there's lots of finger pointing -- the weather, the crowded skies, the FAA, airline management. Does anyone believe in going the extra mile?
Well, yes, and yesterday, an industrious pilot did just that. The pilot of TWA flight 641 left St. Louis en route to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which accommodates skiers heading to nearby Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Upon landing, he notified the Yampa Valley control tower that he was on the ground. However, he neglected to tell them he was on the ground at Craig Airport, about 20 miles farther away. My take: That's going the extra mile, about 20 times over.
Just think how much better flying would be if everyone followed this pilot's example: We could get seated 20 times faster, claim our baggage 20 times faster, and leave the airport 20 times happier. I'm not sure the passengers on flight 641 were quite that happy. The plane: It got stuck in the mud because the Craig Airport runway wasn't long enough to accommodate the jet. But at least TWA picked up the tab for the bus and even rental cars that people needed to get where they were really going. I wonder if they will get 20 extra TWA frequent flyer miles.
Let me know what you think. Send an e-mail to email@example.com. That's one word, askgreta.
I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Next on "LARRY KING LIVE": the case of the stop sign killings.
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