Dropout from high school becomes attorney simply to rescue innocent brother from prison

What would you do if a loved one was receiving an unjust punishment? How far would you go to make things right?

Few people have perhaps progressed as far as Betty Anne Winters. She was unable to remain silent as her brother was imprisoned for a murder he did not commit.

The True Story Behind “Conviction”

What, however, could a high school dropout who now works as a waitress do?

So start by studying to be a lawyer.

Challenging beginnings

As you might have anticipated, it takes a very solid bond between two individuals to convince one or the other to make such sacrifices. This was unquestionably the situation with Betty Anne and her younger brother Kenny.

The two went through a lot of difficulties together as they grew up in the foster care system. The journey was difficult for the siblings.

Betty Anne said to The Sun, “We went through three or four foster homes,” 

At some point, Kenny and Betty Anne both started working at a nearby restaurant. Betty Anne left high school one year before she could earn her diploma.

After a while, Kenny was compelled to leave the restaurant and move back to their hometown to care for their ailing grandfather.

During this period, a nearby neighbor was killed and robbed. Kenny, who had a criminal history, was immediately considered a suspect.

Guilty Despite Innocence

After Kenny was taken into custody, nobody initially showed any concern. Kenny had a credible alibi that put him at his job the day of the murder. Even the day before the incident, he had a court appearance for an unrelated matter.

Thus, his innocence was “obvious” to all.

Betty Anne told The Guardian, ‘I’m happy Kenny was in court. What a perfect alibi.”

Kenny was initially cleared of suspicion because this did indeed work. Strangely, the police returned almost three years later with a new warrant. But Betty Anne never wavered in her conviction that her brother was innocent.

She told The Sun, “The one reason I knew he was innocent was that it wasn’t in his make-up to be the aggressor.”

For the same crime, Kenny was accused once more. The first thing his family considered doing was hiring a lawyer, but the cost was beyond their means. Finally, they decided against it, partly because they were sure that the entire situation was a farce.

Betty Anne told The Guardian, “Kenny said, ‘Please, don’t do that, because it would just be a waste – all the evidence shows I’m innocent.’” 

No one seemed overly concerned because the alibi of being at work at the time of the murder was so strong. Evidence that Kenny was in fact at his place of employment when the murder occurred was all that was required. 

Betty Anne called Kenny’s previous employer right away to ask for his timesheets.

“I was worried, because it had been more than two years. But the girl in the office said, ‘Yes, I just looked them out for the police, and they’re on their way over now to pick them up,’” Betty Anne added.

But for some reason, the timecards were never presented in court. Both Kenny’s defense and his alibi were overturned. He received a jail sentence after being proven guilty. For Kenny and his entire family, it was a fatal blow. Above all, devoted sister Betty Anne was in a mess.

Betty Anne said: “There were many difficult moments starting with when he was found guilty because we were all expecting him to come home that day. We thought that only guilty people went to prison and we knew he was innocent.”

Unexpected turn coming up

A family appeal was made, but it was denied. At that point, things started to become worse. Kenny attempted suicide as his mental state deteriorated.

Kenny screamed for assistance from his sister, who was his only hope. Betty Anne complied and started getting ready for a significant event.

“He actually asked me to go to law school. He said he couldn’t spend the rest of his life in prison, that he wouldn’t make it,” she said. “He said to me, ‘Betty Anne, if you go to law school I know you will find a way to get me out of here and prove me innocent’. So that became the promise between us that would keep him alive.”

The strong and committed sister took charge and submitted an application to law school. Her only goal in life for the following 12 years was to restore her dear brother’s freedom.

“I had a long way to go. I studied for 12 years, starting part-time. Then law school itself is three years. In law school you study for eight hours a day, five days a week.”

It was a difficult and drawn-out journey, and Betty Anne had to sacrifice her own marriage along the way.

“My husband used to say, ‘You love your family more than me’. He didn’t see any sense in me studying law. It wasn’t the only reason the marriage ended, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Her children – Ben, then four, and Richard, six – were placed in Betty Anne’s care, and she had to balance nighttime law school and bar job to make ends meet.

Her triumphant graduation marked the end of a difficult 12-year journey that had turned Betty Anne, a high school dropout, into a licensed attorney. She was anxious about her new status despite this enormous achievement.

“I’m thinking now, ‘What happens if I don’t find something? Where do we go from here?’,” she shared.

“The community college had been a less anxious time, because I was just keeping Kenny alive. But now what?”

Crucial breakthrough

Betty Anne was able to represent her brother as his attorney and seek evidence on his behalf after completing law school. Blood samples from the crime scene, which had allegedly been burned, were found in 1999 by her. These samples contained critical new DNA evidence that might hold the key to her brother’s release.

Years before, when her brother was on trial, DNA evidence was not as advanced. Betty Anne was able to persuade the authorities to analyze the blood for fresh DNA evidence with the aid of the Innocence Project, a group that works to reverse injustices.

This innovation would be the deciding factor. Kenny’s DNA wasn’t matched by the samples.

According to Betty Anne, who spoke to The Sun, “It took two years after getting the DNA which proved him innocent to finally get him free. The DNA evidence should have been enough. It is an odd system. They do not want to admit they made a mistake.”

After serving 18 years in prison, Kenny was finally found not guilty.

Sadly, in a tragic turn of events, Kenny passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage after falling 15 feet while climbing a wall, after enjoying freedom for only six months. He had just turned 47.

“As Kenny would say he had very bad luck,” Betty Anne said.

“And he did. But he also had the best six months of his life. He lived with me for the first three months. And the silver lining is that he died free and innocent.”

The future route

But Betty Anne wasn’t finished; she also wanted to establish that the police had intentionally imprisoned an innocent guy.

“The DNA evidence exonerated Kenny, but it didn’t prove what the Ayer police did to Kenny, on purpose. And that’s what I wanted to prove,” she said, according to The Guardian.

Betty Anne would keep fighting for a further seven years to show that the government had deliberately jailed an innocent man.

Betty Anne said: “They’d tested his prints twice. They knew he wasn’t guilty. They knew from day one that Kenny was innocent.” 

Betty Anne stopped practicing law after the innocent verdict, choosing instead to return to the same bar and devote her free time to volunteering for the Innocence Project.

She stated, “I like helping the Innocence Project. I don’t want to do anything else. I like my life the way it is. It is a good life. I do case reviews and talk on legislature against the death penalty. If they’d had the death penalty in Massachusetts my brother would have been dead before his release.”

The amazing tale of Betty Anne and Kenny was adapted into the 2010 movie Conviction, which starred Hillary Swank as Betty Anne and Sam Rockwell as Kenny. If you haven’t seen it yet, I think it’s worth a look!