A man who spent 16 years in jail for the rape of award-winning author Alice Sebold has been exonerated after flaws in his case were exposed during the production of a film of the author’s memoir. Anthony Broadwater broke down in tears Monday when a judge overturned his conviction for raping Sebold in 1981 while she was a student at Syracuse University.
The rape was the basis of Sebold’s 1999 bestseller, “Lucky”, which launched her career, leading to her 2002 novel “The Lovely Bones”.
“I just hope and pray that maybe Ms. Sebold will come forward and say, ‘Hey, I made a grave mistake’ and give me an apology,” 61-year-old Broadwater told The New York Times. “I sympathize with her, but she was wrong.”
Broadwater was 20 years old and had returned home after serving with the marines when he was accused of raping Sebold in May 1981. Broadwater was found guilty after Sebold identified him in court and on the evidence of microscopic hair samples. That hair analysis is now considered junk science by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Broadwater was released from jail in 1999 but had remained on New York’s sex offender registry until now. In 2020, “Lucky” was being filmed for a Netflix movie when executive producer Tim Mucciante realized that the script’s first draft differed so much from the book. He started raising doubts about the trial, and when he was later dropped from the project, he hired a private investigator to examine the case.
The private investigator connected him with David Hammond and Melissa Swartz of the firm CDH Law. Hammond, who would become Broadwater’s attorney, listened to the transcript of the trial and found “serious legal issues”, CNN reported. He subsequently filed a motion to have the conviction overturned.
At Onondaga County Supreme Court, District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told the judge that Broadwater’s prosecution was an injustice. Broadwater, who had tried five times to get the conviction overturned before Monday’s decision, said he never ever thought he would see the day that he would be exonerated.
Sebold, now 58, wrote in her memoir “Lucky” of being raped as a first-year student at Syracuse in May 1981 while walking home through a park near campus. She said months after the incident, she spotted a Black man in the street who she was certain was her attacker.
“He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street,” wrote the White author. “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”
Sebold said she did not respond, adding, “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”
She reported to the police. Later, Broadwater was arrested after police said he had been spotted in the area. But Sebold failed to identify Broadwater in a police lineup, writing in her memoir that she picked up a different man as her assailant because “the expression in his eyes told me that if we were alone, if there were no wall between us, he would call me by name and then kill me.”
But at a subsequent trial, Sebold identified Broadwater as her rapist. An expert also said microscopic hair analysis now seen as junk science had tied Broadwater to the crime. Broadwater was convicted in 1982. He never knew that Sebold was a well-known author or that his case inspired her memoir until recently when he met film producer Mucciante.