Alice Sebold, the bestselling author of the memoir Lucky and the novel The Lovely Bones, apologised publicly on Tuesday to a man who was wrongly convicted of raping her in 1982 after she had identified him in court as her attacker. The apology came eight days after the conviction of the man, Anthony Broadwater, was vacated by a state-court judge in Syracuse, New York, who concluded, in consultation with the local district attorney and Broadwater's lawyers, that the case against him was deeply flawed.
As a result of the conviction, Broadwater, who is now 61, spent 16 years in prison before being released in 1998 and was forced to register as a sex offender. In a statement posted on the website Medium, Sebold, who described the rape and the ensuing trial in Lucky, said she regretted having “unwittingly” played a part 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.”
Sebold's publisher, Scribner, said she was not available for additional comment. Scribner said last week that it had no plans to update the memoir's text based on Broadwater's exoneration. But on Tuesday the company said it would cease distribution of Lucky while it and Sebold "consider how the work might be revised".
Broadwater, in an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday, said he was “relieved and grateful” for 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.”
Sebold was 18 and a student at Syracuse University, in New York State, when the rape that led to Broadwater's wrongful conviction occurred. In Lucky, which was published in 1999, she gives a searing account of the assault and of the trauma she subsequently endured. She also writes in detail about the trial and about how she became convinced she had recognised Broadwater, whom she referred to with a pseudonym in the book, as her attacker after passing him on the street months after the rape.
The memoir chronicles mishaps in the case, including the fact that a composite sketch of her attacker, based on her description, did not resemble Broadwater. The book also describes Sebold’s fear that the prosecution might be derailed after she identified a different man, not Broadwater, in a police line-up.
Later, she identified Broadwater as her attacker in court. After a brief trial, he was convicted of first-degree rape and five other charges.
Lucky started Sebold’s career and paved the way for her breakout novel, The Lovely Bones, which also centres on sexual assault. It has sold millions of copies and was made into a feature film. Although Sebold gave Broadwater the fictitious name Gregory Madison in the memoir, he said he had been forced to suffer the stigma of being branded a sex offender even after being released from prison. He had always insisted he was innocent and was denied parole several times for refusing to acknowledge guilt. He took two polygraph tests, decades apart, with experts who determined that his account was truthful. He tried repeatedly over the years to hire lawyers to help prove his innocence.
Those efforts were unsuccessful until recently, when a planned film adaptation of Lucky helped raise new questions about the case. Timothy Mucciante, who was working as executive producer on the film version, said in an interview with the New York Times that he had started to doubt Sebold's account after reading the memoir and the script earlier this year. Mucciante said he had been struck by how little evidence was presented at Broadwater's trial. He said he had been fired from the film production after raising questions about the story. (The feature film was ultimately dropped after losing its financing, Variety reported.)
"It seemed like Anthony was wronged," Mucciante said. Mucciante hired a private investigator, Dan Myers, who had spent 20 years with the sheriff's office in Onondaga County, New York, before retiring as a detective in 2020. After finding and interviewing Broadwater, Myers became convinced he had been falsely accused.
Myers, who shares office space with a law firm, recommended that Broadwater hire one of the lawyers there, J David Hammond. Hammond reviewed the investigation and agreed that there was a strong argument for setting the conviction aside. In their motion to vacate the conviction, Hammond and a second lawyer, Melissa K Swartz, argued that the case rested entirely on two flawed elements: Sebold's courtroom identification of Broadwater and a now-discredited method of microscopic hair analysis.
Mucciante's production company, Red Badge Films, is now working on a documentary about the case, titled Unlucky, with a second production company, Red Hawk Films. Broadwater and those who helped vacate the conviction are also participating.
In her statement, Sebold expressed sorrow that in seeking justice for herself she had harmed Broadwater beyond the 16 years he was incarcerated "in ways that further serve to wound and stigmatise, nearly a full life sentence". She also sounded anguished about a question that remains unresolved. "I will also grapple," she wrote, "with the fact that my rapist will, in all likelihood, never be known." – This article originally appeared in The New York Times