The rape conviction at the center of Alice Sebold’s 1981 memoir Lucky has been overturned after a Netflix producer raised concerns about serious flaws in the case while working on a film adaptation of the book.
Anthony Broadwater spent 16 years in jail for the 1981 rape of Sebold when she was attending Syracuse University. She wrote about her attack and its aftermath in Lucky, which was published in 1999. She’s gone on to write books like The Looking Glass, The Almost Moon and The Lovely Bones, which was adapted into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci.
“I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,” Broadwater said, sobbing, after court vacated his conviction, according to the Post-Standard of Syracuse.
“I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it,” said the Onondaga county district attorney, William Fitzpatrick. “This should never have happened.”
In a Medium post, Sebold wrote that she regretted the fact that she “unwittingly” had a role in “a system that sent an innocent man to jail.”
“I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you,” she wrote. “And I know that no apology can change what happened to you and never will. It has taken me these past eight days to comprehend how this could have happened.”
In Lucky, Sebold relates her experience of being raped by a stranger when she was a freshman at Syracuse. Months later, she says a Black man smiled at her while she was walking, and she was certain it 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 Sebold, who is white. “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ …I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”
A police officer told her Broadwater may have been the man in question, but Sebold, who is White, didn’t identify him in a police lineup. Instead, she identified a different man. Nevertheless, Broadwater ended up being convicted after Sebold later identified him in court. He was released from prison in 1999, after being denied parole a number of times because he refused to admit his guilt, and was released as a registered sex offender. Since then, Broadwater has worked as a handyman and trash hauler. He told the AP that the rape conviction has made finding steady work difficult, and has ostracized him from family and friends. He unsuccessfully tried to clear his name five times.
When Netflix picked up Lucky for an adaptation, producer Tim Mucciante of Red Badge Films noted some serious flaws in Broadwater’s case while reading a first draft of the script. “I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” he told the Associated Press.
He dropped out of the film project but continued investigating the story itself, working with a private investigator and a Syracuse law firm to dig deeper into Broadwater’s conviction. Ultimately, they cleared his name.
In a conversation with the New York Times, Broadwater said he appreciated Sebold’s apology.
“It took a lot of courage, and I guess she’s brave and weathering through the storm like I am,” he said. “To make that statement, it’s a strong thing for her to do, understanding that she was a victim and I was a victim too.”
Mucciante said what struck him about the case was how little evidence was presented. Sebold herself wrote in Lucky that she realized what the defense’s line 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.”