By Lisa Redmond
BOSTON — The town of Ayer and five of six of its insurance companies over the past three decades have reached a $3.4 million settlement with the estate of the late Kenneth Waters, who spent 19 years in prison for a 1980 Ayer murder he did not commit.
During a hearing in U.S. District Court Tuesday, attorney Barry Scheck, who was part of O.J. Simpson’s “Dream Team,” confirmed that during lengthy discussions among all parties on Monday, a settlement was reached with all but Western World Insurance Co., which insured the town from 1985 to 1991.
Western World had until yesterday afternoon to join in the settlement or face an assessment hearing July 23 in federal court, during which a federal judge will hold a trial to determine what damages the company should pay. A psychologist is prepared to testify about Waters’ physical and mental deterioration while in prison.
Waters was convicted in 1983 of first-degree murder for the May 21, 1980 stabbing death of Katharina Brow in her Rosewood Avenue mobile home. Brow frequented the diner where Waters worked in Ayer. She was robbed of her cash and jewelry, some of which showed up in Waters’ possession.
Nearly two decades later, DNA evidence unearthed by his sister, Betty Anne Waters, cleared him and he was released from prison on March 31, 2001. He died six months later on Sept. 19, 2001, at the age of 47 when he fell 15 feet off a brick wall onto his head.
In a “report and recommendation” that was highly critical of the Ayer Police Department’s handling of the Brow case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Gail Dein in March rejected motions for summary judgment by former Ayer police chiefs William Adamson and Philip Connors and former Ayer police officer Nancy Taylor-Harris, who was the lead investigator.
Dein wrote that a jury could find that Taylor-Harris, who was the secretary to both chiefs and a “special” officer, was “not qualified to conduct a murder investigation and that her inexperience and failure to comply with internal policies and practices were known to and would have been obvious to her supervisors.”
The failure to supervise Taylor-Harris, Dein wrote, was “likely to lead to a violation of Waters’ constitutional rights.”
The agreement between the five insurance companies and the town of Ayer calls for a $3.4 million settlement without the town or the Police Department admitting to any liability or fault, a standard condition in insurance cases, Scheck said.
“I think this is a good settlement. It is very good resolution to the case,” said Scheck, who worked on the case through the Innocence Project, which fights to free people who have been wrongly imprisoned.
Attorney Joseph L. Tehan Jr., representing Ayer’s town counsel, Kopelman & Paige, declined to comment after the court hearing.
In court Tuesday, Betty Anne Waters, who earned a law degree so that she could clear her brother’s name, couldn’t stop smiling.
The 54-year-old Middletown, R.I. woman, who earned her GED before going to college, said, “I spent half my life (on this case). I’m still very emotional. … I feel vindicated that the truth is finally out.”
Her fight to free her brother is now the subject of a major motion picture, Betty Anne Waters, slated for release next year. Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank will play Betty Anne Waters, and Sam Rockwell plays her late brother.
Waters said the settlement will be divided among the nine siblings and her brother’s 30-year-old daughter, Mandy, who is adopting a son.
While the town and the Police Department admit no wrongdoing, Waters said the investigation into the civil-rights lawsuit cast a dark cloud over how the department operated back then.
“If not for them (Ayer police), my brother would not have been arrested,” she said.