Brother’s Keeper

Institute History


Known to their neighbors as the “Ward boys,” fifty-nine-year-old Delbert and his three older brothers—Bill, Lyman and Roscoe—have lived in their two-room shack with no indoor toilet, telephone or running water all their lives. These illiterate bachelors have never left their ninety-nine-acre dairy farm in central New York state. Their quiet life was suddenly shattered on June 6, 1990, however, when Bill Ward was found dead in the bed he had shared with his brother Delbert for more than half his life.

Delbert allegedly confessed to having suffocated his brother and was charged with murder. For ten agonizing months afterward, Delbert claimed he was innocent despite the incriminating weight of his signed confession. Ironically the people of Munnsville, who had previously shunned the brothers, rallied to his defense. Suddenly a case of possible euthanasia became a national media event.

Brother’s Keeper is a compelling documentation of the Ward brother’s case. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky follow this complex and disturbing event in the vérité style of the Maysles brothers. Many questions and issues are raised, some of which still remain unanswered. What was Delbert’s relationship with his older brother? Was he framed or did he commit fratricide? From the intimate conversations with the brothers to the explosive trial, Brother’s Keeper captures the dynamic range of the case, as well as drawing a sensitive sketch of a contemporary American rural community.

— Norman Wang

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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