Posted: 11/01/2010

 

Conviction

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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I greatly anticipated the new film Conviction, starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, because I have marveled at the ability of DNA to help exonerate inmates who have been unjustly convicted.
Conviction covers the life story of Kenny Waters, played by Rockwell, who in 1980 was tried and convicted of murder in the stabbing death of Katarina Brow in Ohio. Kenny and his sister Betty Anne, played by Swank, were very close, even though they were from a broken home.
As the movie reveals, Kenny was well known at the local lock up, and he wasn’t charged with the crime of murder until two years after Brow’s death. He was sentenced to life in prison, and Betty Anne set out to free him, by first receiving her GED and then going to finish law school and becoming a lawyer.

She hooks up with Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project after learning in the mid-90’s that DNA might help prove her brother’s innocence. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 and is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

I also, while writing an expanded piece on DNA and wrongful convictions in the black community many years ago for The Final Call, had an opportunity to have a phone interview with Scheck. The renowned attorney was also on O.J. Simpson’s defense team when he was charged with murdering his wife.

The road to Kenny’s freedom isn’t easy; as Betty Anne sacrifices a lot to help her brother. Their bond is so strong, it’s amazing the lengths she went to in order to help him, while raising her own family and struggling with school. Kenny had a daughter of his own, whom he never really knew, and after he was incarcerated, his daughter’s mother did all that she could to keep the two from seeing one another. Betty Anne loses much in the movie, while trying to win for her brother. She ends up getting a divorce from her husband, but she finds an ally in a classmate, played by Minnie Driver, who encourages her along in her quest to become a lawyer.

I must say that Kenny wasn’t always a happy camper. Of course not in prison and even with the prospect of his sister getting him out. Everything went too slowly for him, and he had such an attitude, but the bond between he and his sister was always there.

There has been controversy surrounding this movie, since it opened, notably from the murdered woman’s family, who claim they were not notified that a movie was being made about their late mother. The District Attorney in the case also has been criticized with stonewalling and obstructing justice in getting folks to perjure themselves to say that Kenny was, in fact, the killer.

All in all, Conviction is a great film that peels away layers in the criminal justice system and shows what a family united can do to prevail over great odds, if they just keep their eyes on the prize.
Conviction is playing in theaters throughout the city and suburbs.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.



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