June 18, 2024

Wrongly accused man in Alice Sebold rape case exonerated after 16 years in prison

Anthony Broadwater spent 16 years behind bars for the rape of a white, female student at Syracuse University. On Monday, a New York judge overturned his 40-year-old rape conviction.

The victim, award-winning novelist Alice Sebold, details being raped and beaten at age 18 in her 1999 memoir, “Lucky.” She was a freshman in May 1981 when the attack occurred while she was walking home through a park near campus, New York Post reports.

Sebold, best known for her acclaimed 2002 novel “The Lovely Bones,” said when she reported the crime immediately afterward, police referenced the case of a murder victim who was dismembered at the same spot, telling Sebold she was “lucky.”

Months after the attack, Sebold recalls walking on Marshall Street when she spotted the man who she believed raped her.

“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. “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”

Sebold didn’t respond, instead, she “looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel,” she wrote.

In “Lucky,” she notes that she failed to identify Broadwater in a police 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.”

Sebold said she was informed that the man she picked in the lineup looked “almost identical” to the man she’d previously identified as her attacker but according to a New York Times report, she was told the men were friends who’d conspired to confuse her.

Sebold said she imagined that during the trial, 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.”

Broadwater, now 61, was 20 years old when he was arrested and charged with forcible rape because police claimed he was in the area at the time. Sebold writes that she testified against him at trial. Additionally, microscopic hair analysis (now considered junk science by the U.S. Department of Justice, per the report) linked him to the assault.

“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.

Broadwater spent more than 16 years in state prison before being released in 1999. He has since remained on the state’s public sex offender registry.

Sebold’s book “Lucky” led to a re-examination of Broadwater’s case after a Netflix producer hired to turn the book into a movie took a closer look at the case and started to believe in his innocence. This led to a private investigator and the Syracuse-based firm CDH Law getting involved.

“I started having some doubts, not about the story that Alice told about her assault, which was tragic, but the second part of her book about the trial, which didn’t hang together,” said executive producer Timothy Mucciante, who left the Netflix project in June due to his doubts about the way the story was being told, per the Times. 

This paved the way for Broadwater’s conviction being overturned after Hammond and defense attorney Melissa Swartz exposed flaws at the original trial. As part of their efforts, he’ll also be removed from the sex offender registry.

“I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,” Broadwater said after his court appearance in Syracuse on Monday, the Post-Standard of Syracuse reported.

“I’ve been crying tears of joy and relief the last couple of days,” he told Associated Press on Tuesday. “I’m so elated, the cold can’t even keep me cold.”

Per the report, the DA apologized privately to Broadwater before the court hearing on Monday.

“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.”

Sebold’s memoir was set to be turned into a movie starring Victoria Pedretti as Sebold. However, amid news of Broadwater’s exoneration, it is unclear if the project is still in the works.

Sebold issued a terse “No comment” through her publisher, Scribner, when asked by The New York Times to respond to Broadwater’s exoneration. The publisher says they have no plans to update the memoir in light of the new information.

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