A rape conviction at the center of award-winning author Alice Sebold’s memoir was overturned due to what authorities determined were serious flaws in the 1982 prosecution and fears that the wrong man would be sent to prison.
Judge Anthony Broadwater, who served 16 years in prison, on Monday acquitted Sebold of rape while she was a student at Syracuse University, an assault she wrote about in her 1999 memoir, Lucky.
Broadwater trembled with emotion, sobbing as his head fell into his hands as a Syracuse judge overturned his conviction at the prosecutors’ request.
“I never, ever thought I’d see the day when I would be acquitted,” Broadwater, 61, said after the court.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told State Supreme Court Justice Gordon Coffey in a court hearing that Broadwater’s trial was an unfairness.
“I wouldn’t pollute this action by saying, ‘I’m sorry,'” Fitzpatrick said. “It should never have happened.”
Siebold, 58, wrote in Lucky about being raped as a first-year student in Syracuse in May 1981 and then spotted a black man in the street months later that she was sure of her attacker.
He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a walk in the park for him. White Siebold wrote, ‘He met an acquaintance in the street.’ He said, “Hey girl.” “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
She said she didn’t reply: “I looked straight at him. I knew his face was mine on top of me in the tunnel.”
Siebold went to the police, but they did not know the man’s name and an initial survey of the area failed to locate him. One officer noted that the man on the street must have been from Broadwater, and presumably had been seen in the area. Sebold gave Broadwater the pseudonym Gregory Madison in her book.
After Broadwater’s arrest, Siebold failed to identify him on the police list, choosing a different man as her attacker because “the expression in his eyes told me that if we were alone, if there was no wall between us, he would call by name and then kill me.”
However, Broadwater was tried and convicted in 1982 largely on the basis of two evidence. On the witness stand, Siebold identified him as her rapist. An expert said hair microscopic analysis linked Broadwater to the crime. This type of analysis is now considered undesirable science by the US Department of Justice.
“Spray some unwanted science on a false identification, which is the perfect recipe for a false conviction,” Broadwater’s attorney, David Hammond, told Post-Standard.
Letters to Sebold seeking comment have been sent through her publisher and literary agency.
Broadwater remained on the sex offenders registry in New York after he finished his prison term in 1999.
The attorney general apologized to Broadwater in private before the court hearing.
“When he talked to me about what went wrong with me, I couldn’t help but cry,” Broadwater said. “The relief that a local prosecutor of this magnitude will take sides with me on this case, it’s so deep, I don’t know what to say.”
Broadwater, who worked as a garbage truck and handyman in the years since his release from prison, told the Associated Press that the rape conviction blew his job prospects and relationships with friends and family members.
Even after he married a woman who believed in his innocence, Broadwater never wanted to have children.
“We had a big argument at times about children, and I told her I could never let children into this world with the stigma on my back,” he said.
Broadwater said he was still crying tears of joy and relief at his acquittal the next day.
“I’m so elated,” Broadwater said. “The cold can’t keep me cold.”
In addition to Lucky, Siebold is the author of the novels The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon.
The Lovely Bones, about the rape and murder of a teenage girl, won the American Booksellers Association’s Book of the Year award for adult literature in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci.
Lucky was also in the process of being adapted to Netflix — and thanks to the film project, Broadwater’s conviction was flipped four decades later.
Tim Mucciante, who has a production company called Red Badge Films, signed on as executive producer of the adaptation but became suspicious of Broadwater’s guilt when the first draft of the script came out because it differed so much from the book.
“I started walking around trying to figure out what really happened here,” Moshianti told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Mucciante said that after leaving the project he hired a private investigator, who put him in contact with Hammond and Melissa Swartz of Syracuse-based CDH Law.
Hammond and Schwartz credited Fitzpatrick for his personal interest in the case and his understanding that scientific developments had cast doubt on the use of hair analysis, the only type of forensic evidence produced at the Broadwater trial to link him to Sebold’s rape.
The fate of the Lucky adaptation was not clear in light of Broadwater’s acquittal. Messages asking for comment have been left with Netflix and with its new executive producer, Jonathan Bronfman of Toronto-based JoBro Productions.
Siebold wrote in Lucky that when she was told she had chosen someone other than the man she had previously identified as her rapist, she said the two men looked “almost identical.”
She wrote that she realized the defense would be: “A terrified white girl saw a black man in the street. He spoke to her familiarly and in her mind she associated this with her rape. She was accusing the wrong man.”
Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual assault issues is available from the following organizations. In the United States, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673. In the UK, the Rape Crisis offers support at 0808802 9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html