Author Alice Sebold apologized Tuesday to the man who was exonerated last week in the 1981 rape that was the basis for her memoir “Lucky” and said she was struggling with the role she played “within a system that sent an innocent man to jail.”
Anthony Broadwater, 61, was convicted in 1982 of raping Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University. He served 16 years in prison. His conviction was overturned on Nov. 22 after prosecutors reexamined the case and determined there were serious flaws in his arrest and trial.
In a statement released to The Associated Press and later posted on Medium, Sebold, 58, the author of the novels “The Lovely Bones” and “The Almost Moon,” said that as a “traumatized 18-year-old rape victim” she chose to put her faith in the American legal system.
“My goal in 1982 was justice – not to perpetuate injustice,” Sebold said. “And certainly not to forever, and irreparably, alter a young man’s life by the very crime that had altered mine.”
Melissa Swartz, an attorney for Broadwater, said he had no comment on Sebold’s statement.
Broadwater, who was released from prison in 1998, told the AP last week he was crying “tears of joy and relief” after his conviction was overturned by a judge in Syracuse.
Sebold, who has not previously commented on Broadwater’s exoneration, said in her statement, “I am grateful that Mr. Broadwater has finally been vindicated, but the fact remains that 40 years ago, he became another young Black man brutalized by our flawed legal system. I will forever be sorry for what was done to him.”
Alice Sebold's memoir 'Lucky' described a run-in with her attacker
Sebold wrote in "Lucky" of being raped as a first-year student at Syracuse in May 1981 and then spotting a Black man in the street months later that she was sure 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?'"
She said she didn't respond: "I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel."
Sebold went to police, but she didn't know the man's name and an initial sweep of the area failed to locate him. An officer suggested the man in the street must have been Broadwater, who had supposedly been seen in the area. Sebold gave Broadwater the pseudonym Gregory Madison in her book.
After Broadwater was arrested, though, Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup, picking a different man as her attacker 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."
Anthony Broadwater was convicted based on 'junk science'
Broadwater was nonetheless tried and convicted in 1982 based largely on two pieces of evidence. On the witness stand, Sebold identified him as her rapist. And an expert said microscopic hair analysis had tied Broadwater to the crime. That type of analysis has since been deemed junk science by the U.S. 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 seeking comment were sent through her publisher and her literary agency.
Broadwater remained on New York's sex offender registry after finishing his prison term in 1999.
Broadwater, who has worked as a trash hauler and a handyman in the years since his release from prison, told the AP that the rape conviction blighted his job prospects and his 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 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 said.
Film adaptation of Seybold's 'Lucky' helped exonerate Broadwater
In addition to "Lucky," Sebold 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 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" was also in the process of being filmed, and it was thanks to the film project itself that Broadwater's conviction was overturned after four decades.
Tim Mucciante, who has a production company called Red Badge Films, had signed on as executive producer of the adaptation but became skeptical of Broadwater's guilt when the first draft of the script came out because it differed so much from the book.
"I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here," Mucciante told the AP on Tuesday.
Mucciante said that after dropping out of the project earlier this year he hired a private investigator, who put him in touch with Hammond, of Syracuse-based CDH Law, who brought in fellow defense lawyer Melissa Swartz, of Cambareri & Brenneck.
Hammond and Swartz credited Fitzpatrick for taking a personal interest in the case and understanding that scientific advances have cast doubt on the use of hair analysis, the only type of forensic evidence that was produced at Broadwater's trial to link him to Sebold's rape.
The fate of the film adaptation of "Lucky" was unclear in light of Broadwater's exoneration. A message seeking comment was left with its new executive producer, Jonathan Bronfman of Toronto-based JoBro Productions.
Sebold wrote in "Lucky" that when she was informed that she'd picked someone other than the man she'd previously identified as her rapist, she said the two men looked "almost identical."
She wrote that she realized the defense would be that: "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."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alice Sebold memoir rape case: Author apologizes to exonerated man