The Boston Globe is reporting:
The town of Ayer and five of its insurers have agreed to pay $3.4 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the estate of the late Kenneth Waters, who spent more than 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before his sister earned a law degree and helped free him through DNA evidence. The estate was represneted by Barry Sheck of Neufeld Sheck and Brustin.
Ayer police were accused of coercing false testimony to convict Waters and withholding evidence that could have cleared him. A sixth insurance company, Western World Insurance Group, has declined to settle, but negotiations are continuing. Kenneth Waters was freed from prison in March 2001, and the Middlesex district attorney’s office dropped the charges against him. But he enjoyed only six months of freedom. He died on Sept. 19, 2001, after he fell on his head from a 15-foot wall in Rhode Island while taking a shortcut to a restaurant.
Ayer’s town administrator, Shaun A. Suhoski, said the lawsuit was “a very complex case and, through the very diligent efforts of our legal team, with close oversight of the Board of Selectmen, it appears we’ve reached an acceptable endpoint in this litigation.’’
Kenneth Waters was convicted in 1983 of first-degree murder and armed robbery in the death of Katharina Brow. She was found on May 21, 1980, with more than 30 stab wounds, in her mobile home in Ayer. Waters; his girlfriend, Brenda Marsh; and two of her children, one of whom Waters had fathered, had been living in a house behind the mobile home.
According to the complaint filed by Betty Anne Waters, her brother had a solid alibi for his whereabouts when the killing occurred: He had been working a night shift at a local diner and then had a court appearance the next morning for an unrelated matter. Ayer police interviewed him after the killing, but filed no charges, and the case remained unsolved for 2 1/2 years.
In October 1982, a man who was living with Marsh approached Ayer police and said she told him that Waters had confessed to killing a woman in Ayer, according to the complaint. She also said she had washed Waters’s bloody clothes, he said. Ayer Police Chief Philip L. Connors and Officer Nancy Taylor-Harris interrogated Marsh. Although she initially denied that Waters had anything to do with the killing, Marsh ultimately relented and said he had come home drunk the morning that Brow was killed with a long, deep scratch on his face, according to the complaint. Police arrested Waters, even though officers had examined him after the killing and found no wounds.
The complaint alleged that Waters was indicted based in part on false testimony before a grand jury by Taylor-Harris that fingerprints found at the crime scene were smeared and useless to investigators. In fact, authorities found a bloody fingerprint on a broken toaster and a partial print on a kitchen faucet that was still running when Brow’s body was discovered. Taylor-Harris knew that Waters had been excluded as the source of the prints, the complaint alleged. Waters was convicted by a Middlesex Superior Court jury and sentenced to life in prison.