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Roscoe Ward, 88; his sibling's murder trial put brothers in spotlight

June 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

Roscoe Ward, the eldest of four brothers in New York state whose story was featured in the award-winning 1992 documentary "Brother's Keeper" after one of the brothers was charged with murdering his sibling, has died. He was 88.

Ward died Saturday at Crouse Community Center in Morrisville, N.Y. He had lived at the facility three years.

"Roscoe had life to him," said Ralph Cognetti, the lawyer who successfully defended brother Delbert on the 1990 murder charge. "He smiled, he was a ladies man, he loved to dance. He spoke what he felt. You enjoyed being around him."

The Wards' story unfolded when authorities charged Delbert, the youngest, with smothering to death his older brother William, who had been severely ill. The bachelor brothers lived on a ramshackle, hillside dairy farm in Munnsville, N.Y. They were well regarded by neighbors who launched a public campaign to prove Delbert's innocence.

Delbert Ward's lawyer argued that William Ward died of cancer at age 64. He said Delbert, whose IQ was 68, had been tricked by investigators into saying his brother's death was a mercy killing.

The Ward boys -- as local residents called them -- were unsophisticated and lived their entire lives in their spare farmhouse without indoor plumbing or heat. When Delbert was charged, supporters collected nearly 900 signatures demanding a review of the autopsy results. When a judge set bail for Delbert at $10,000, supporters raised the entire amount outside the courtroom in just a few minutes.

Delbert was acquitted after a trial that attracted national attention.

Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky unveiled their documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The film, which left open the issue of Delbert's innocence or guilt, won awards and critical acclaim.

The remaining brother, Lyman, turns 85 on July 7, said his niece, Sandy Dobson. Delbert Ward died in 1998 at age 67.

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