News your connection to The Boston Globe

Roscoe Ward, 88; family's story was featured in documentary

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Roscoe Ward, one of four brothers 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.

Mr. Ward, the older of the two remaining brothers, died June 23 at Crouse Community Center in Morrisville. He had lived at the facility for three years.

"Roscoe had life to him," said Ralph Cognetti, the lawyer who successfully defended brother Delbert Ward on a 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 in 1990 when authorities charged Delbert with smothering to death his older brother, William, who had been severely ill. The bachelor brothers lived on a ramshackle hillside farm in Munnsville that seemed a century out of place, but they were well regarded by neighbors who launched a public crusade to prove Delbert's innocence.

Ward's defense lawyer argued that William Ward died of cancer. He said Delbert, with an IQ of 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 simple, unsophisticated, and lived their entire lives in their four-room farmhouse. 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 eventually acquitted after a trial that attracted national media attention.

In 1992, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky unveiled their documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The film won awards and critical acclaim.

Delbert Ward died in 1998 at age 67.

The remaining brother is Lyman Ward, who will turn 85 on July 7, said his niece, Sandy Dobson.