Alice Sebold is a celebrated novelist. She was first year student at Syracuse University upstate New York. In May 1981, she was knifepoint raped.
It would be the turning point in her writing life.
Her most famous novel, The Lovely Bones — later turned into a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan — is about a girl who is raped and murdered.
And Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, ploughed the same shocking literary furrow, the cover declaring: ‘In the tunnel where I was raped, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. The police told me this story. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.’
Critics rhapsodised about her unflinching description of the rape, her determination to wrest her life back from her attacker, as well as her ‘courage to speak the unspeakable’.
Alice Sebold, a bestselling novelist, would go on to make her an international success story with The Lovely Bones. It was published in 2002.
It seemed perfectly right that she could use the tragedy in her past to inspire a glittering career as a writer.
The only problem, it appears, is that it also ruined another innocent life — that of the man she identified in court as her attacker, who spent 16 years in prison for the crime from which he has now been exonerated.
A Syracuse judge quashed Anthony Broadwater’s conviction on Monday at the request of the prosecutors. They admitted that there were serious flaws during the initial trial.
Broadwater’s lawyers pointed out that Sebold had initially identified a different man in a police identity parade.
Also, they argued that prosecution relied on microscopic hair analysis which was later debunked.
Ironically, despite Broadwater fighting for decades to clear his name, the success of his appeal can largely be attributed to the producer of a film version of Sebold’s memoir that was in pre-production. Broadwater noticed differences between her book and the script.
Broadwater, 61, sobbed in court as prosecutor William Fitzpatrick said: ‘I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying: “I’m sorry”. That doesn’t cut it. This should never have happened.’
Anthony Broadwater (center), 61, reacts after Judge Gordon Cuffy overturns his 40-year-old conviction for rape which wrongly placed him in state prison.
Scribner, her publisher, stated that Sebold (58) had not commented on the decision. It added that there were no plans to update the contents of the memoir, which covered her alleged attacker’s arrest and conviction.
In a 2003 interview she said: ‘Everybody in my case had said, “Whatever you do, don’t look at the rapist when you go in the court because he will try to intimidate you.” So as soon as they told me that, I knew I would. I looked at him intensely and wouldn’t take my eyes away from him, and he turned away and looked down.’
For his part, Broadwater said he ‘truly and strongly’ sympathised with the author. ‘Something did happen, but I was not the person,’ he said.
‘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.’
Broadwater passed the lie detector test to prove his innocence and said that his conviction had ruined his life. Broadwater was released from prison after completing his sentence in 1999. He was placed on the public sex offenders register, and was rejected by his family, friends and employers.
Anthony Broadwater is seen hugging a family member in court following his conviction for the crime of rape.
To make ends meet, he was required to work odd jobs and manual labor. He worked nights to have an excuse in case of another attack such as the Sebold midnight rape.
He said his wife, Elizabeth, had wanted to have children but he refused, saying that he didn’t want them to have to live with the stigma of his conviction. His alleged crime was obvious to all.
In Sebold’s 1999 memoir, his accuser had graphically described what befell her as she was returning home through a park near her university campus.
The 18-year old boy was grabbed by the behind and beat. He was then taken into an underground tunnel with bottles.
Sebold, who was a virgin, said the monster who raped her told her: ‘You’re the worst b***h I ever done this to.’
Sebold was the one who asked Sebold to give his wife her name after he left her. ‘I couldn’t lie. I didn’t have a name other than my own to say,’ she said.
‘So his parting words were: “Nice knowing you, Alice . . . see you around some time”.’
Alice Sebold (58), is shown receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane letters degree at Boston University in 2016.
According to her, she called campus security immediately and then went to the police. Broadwater, a U.S. marine at 20 years old, was later arrested after Sebold saw a man who she believed was her attacker.
‘He was smiling as he approached. He recognised me,’ she wrote in Lucky.
‘It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street. “Hey, girl,” he said. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”’
Sebold said she didn’t respond: ‘I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.’
Broadwater was then arrested by her. Sebold failed to recognize him during a parade of police identification.
She picked a different man as her attacker because, she wrote, ‘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 was still tried in the next year. Broadwater was still tried in the following year.
A witness who was an expert in the field told the court that Broadwater had been linked to the crime by microscopic hair analysis. Broadwater was convicted for rape and sodomy. He was sentenced to 8 to 25 years prison.
The film adaptation of the Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson in 2009, made a star out of actress Saoirse Ronan, who played the protagonist Susie Salmon
Sebold was the daughter of a Spanish teacher. She moved to New York to work as a waitress and tried her hand at writing. She struggled to have romantic relationships, and found sex ‘like gritting your teeth on a frightening carnival ride that those around you appear to enjoy’.
After realizing she was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, she sought treatment.
The Lovely Bones, her first novel, was published in 2002, three years after her memoir — which had met with little interest — and was an instant hit, selling five million copies.
The story is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon, who — speaking from Heaven — recounts how she was lured into an underground hideout by a neighbour who then raped and murdered her.
Sebold acknowledged that she would not have ever written The Lovely Bones if it wasn’t for her experience with rape.
Lucky became a bestseller after its success. It was also announced in 2019 that Lucky would be made into a feature-length film. However, it was revealed yesterday that funding issues had forced the cancellation of the project several months earlier.
Timothy Mucciante was an executive producer and began questioning the story. ‘I started having some doubts, not about the story that Alice told about her assault, which was tragic, but about the second part of her book — about the trial, which didn’t hang together,’ he said.
So skeptical was he that he quit the production and hired Dan Myers, a private detective to investigate the case. On the basis of his findings, Mucciante became convinced of Broadwater’s innocence.
Alice Sebold wrote about the horrendous experience of rape at age 21 in Lucky (1998), her first book.
His concerns were taken up by lawyers hired by Broadwater, who argued at the subsequent appeal hearing that the original trial had hinged on two unreliable pieces of evidence — Sebold’s identification of Broadwater and hair evidence provided by a forensic chemist. They claimed that both were flawed.
The fact that the writer had initially picked another man in the identity parade — telling the trial that he and Broadwater looked like twins — was enough to raise reasonable doubt, they said.
As for the hair evidence, the prosecution’s forensic expert said at the trial that the samples of the rapist’s hair found on her body were ‘consistent’ with Broadwater’s hair, but he couldn’t say how many other people might have similar hair.
He even conceded that there was a ‘possibility’ the hair may have belonged to someone other than the accused.
In 2016, no less an authority than the then FBI director James Comey acknowledged that trials in the 1990s and earlier had ‘put more weight on hair comparison than scientifically appropriate’.
He added that ‘hair is not like fingerprints, as there aren’t any studies that show how many people have identical-looking hair fibres’.
David Hammond, Broadwater’s current lawyer, was even more dismissive: ‘Sprinkle some junk science on to a faulty identification and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction.’
However, he acknowledged that in the absence of DNA proof — the evidence collected at the time no longer exists — no one will ever know for certain.