A judge has overturned a 40-year-old rape conviction at the center of a memoir by award-winning novelist Alice Sebold due to flaws in the prosecution.
Anthony Broadwater, who spent 16 years behind bars, shook with emotion and broke down into tears Monday when the state Supreme Court Justice overturned his conviction of raping Sebold while she was a student at Syracuse University.
Sebold, who is best known as the author of the 2002 novel “The Lovely Bones,” described her experience of being raped and beaten when she was 18 in her 1999 memoir, “Lucky.”
“I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,” Broadwater, 61, said after his court appearance in Syracuse on Monday, the Post-Standard of Syracuse reported.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told the judge that Broadwater’s prosecution was an injustice.
“I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it. This should never have happened,” he said.
The DA apologized to Broadwater, who remained on New York’s sex offender registry after finishing his prison term in 1999, privately before the court hearing.
“When he spoke to me about the wrong that was done to me, I couldn’t help but cry,” Broadwater said. “The relief that a district attorney of that magnitude would side with me in this case, it’s so profound, I don’t know what to say.”
In her memoir, Sebold, now 58, described being raped as a freshman in May 1981 while walking home through a park near campus.
When she reported the crime to police, they told her that a young woman had once been murdered and dismembered at the same spot – so they said she was “lucky.”
Months later, Sebold spotted a black man in the street that she was certain was her assailant.
“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 Sebold, who is white. “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”
She said she didn’t respond.
“I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel,” Sebold wrote.
A sweep of the area failed to locate a suspect but an officer suggested he must have been Broadwater, who had supposedly been spotted in the area.
But after Broadwater was arrested, Sebold failed to identify him in a lineup, picking 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.”
Broadwater — whom Sebold gave the pseudonym Gregory Madison in her novel — was ultimately convicted after she identified him on the witness stand and an expert said microscopic hair analysis had tied him to the crime.
However, that type of analysis is now considered junk science by the US Department of Justice.
“Sprinkle some junk science onto a faulty identification, and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Broadwater’s attorney David Hammond told the Post-Standard.
Messages to Sebold sent through her publisher and her literary agency seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Broadwater, who has worked as a trash hauler and a handyman, told The Associated Press that the rape conviction damaged his job prospects and his relationships with friends and relatives.
Even after he married a woman who believed in his innocence, Broadwater never wanted to have kids.
“We had a big argument sometimes about kids, and I told her I could never, ever allow kids to come into this world with a stigma on my back,” he told the news agency, adding that he was still crying tears of joy and relief for being cleared.
“I’m so elated, the cold can’t even keep me cold,” said Broadwater, who reportedly passed a polygraph test once for which he paid $300.
Sebold’s book “The Lovely Bones,” about the rape and murder of a teenage girl, won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.
“Lucky,” which also is being turned into a Netflix movie featuring Victoria Pedretti in the role of Sebold, led to a re-examination of Broadwater case, according to his lawyers, the Post-Standard reported.
Tim Mucciante, who has a production company called Red Badge Films, signed on to help produce the movie but said he became skeptical of Broadwater’s guilt when the first draft of the script came out because it differed so much from the memoir.
“I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” Mucciante told The AP on Tuesday.
He said that after dropping out of the project he hired a private investigator, who put him in touch with Hammond and Melissa Swartz of the Syracuse-based firm CDH Law.
They credited the district attorney for taking a personal interest in the case and understanding that scientific advances have shed doubt on the use of hair analysis, which had been used at Broadwater’s trial to link him to the crime.
Merrill Stephen Kaszubinski, a forensic chemist who testified at trial, admitted that there was a “possibility” the rapist’s hair might have belonged to someone else,” the Post-Standard reported.
In 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey also acknowledged “problems” with the way hair analysis was used during trials before the early 1990s, the paper said.
Sebold wrote that when she was informed that she’d picked someone other than the man she’d previously identified as her attacker, she said the two looked “almost identical.”
She wrote that she realized the defense would be “a panicked white girl saw a black man on the street. He spoke familiarly to her and in her mind she connected this to her rape. She was accusing the wrong man.”
In light of Broadwater’s exoneration, the fate of the film adaptation of “Lucky” was unclear.
The AP left messages seeking comment with Netflix and with its new executive producer, Jonathan Bronfman of Toronto-based JoBro Productions.