The Lovely Bones whodunnit: Man convicted of raping author Alice Sebold exonerated after 16 years behind bars

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Anthony Broadwater, center, gazes upward - Katrina Tulloch/The Post-Standard/AP
Anthony Broadwater, center, gazes upward - Katrina Tulloch/The Post-Standard/AP

When Alice Sebold wrote of her violent rape and how she bumped into her alleged attacker on the street, her memoir launched a glittering literary career.

But the man she accused in 'Lucky' has now been cleared after 16 years in prison, flaws in the case having been exposed during production of a film based on Sebold's experiences.

The man accused of the attack, Anthony Broadwater, has always maintained his innocence, and was finally exonerated on Monday by a judge who conceded he should never have been convicted.

Mr Broadwater sobbed with his head in his hands as his nearly 40-year-old conviction was overturned. "I've been crying tears of joy and relief the last couple of days," the 61-year-old said. "I'm so elated, the cold can't even keep me cold."

Ms Sebold, 58, author of best-seller The Lovely Bones, described in ‘Lucky’ spotting a black man in the streets months after she was raped as a first-year student at Syracuse University in May 1981 whom she believed was her attacker.

Alice Sebold recounts her horrific rape and the shocking moment she bumped into her accused rapist in her memoir - Jim Cooper/AP
Alice Sebold recounts her horrific rape and the shocking moment she bumped into her accused rapist in her memoir - Jim Cooper/AP

"He was smiling as he approached. He recognised 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."

But she identified a different man as her attacker in a police lineup. In 'Lucky', Sebold writes that “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.”

At a subsequent trial, Sebold identified Mr Broadwater as her rapist, while an expert said microscopic hair analysis - a now debunked pseudo-science - had tied Mr Broadwater to the crime. He was convicted in 1982.

'Lucky' was in the process of being filmed when the executive producer of the adaptation became sceptical of Mr Broadwater's guilt after 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," Tim Mucciante said.

Mr Mucciante said he hired a private investigator after dropping out of the project earlier this year, and became convinced of Mr Broadwater’s innocence.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick is said to have taken a personal interest in the case, understanding that the use of hair analysis, the only type of forensic evidence that was produced at Mr Broadwater's trial, has since been discredited.

Mr Broadwater, who has worked as a binman and a handyman in the years since his release from prison, said the rape conviction blighted his job prospects and his relationships with friends and family members.

“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,” he told the New York Times. “I sympathise with her. But she was wrong.”

Sebold wrote in 'Lucky' that she had failed to identify Mr Broadwater in a police lineup, admitting in the book that she had picked another man that appeared "almost identical".

She wrote that she realised the defence 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."

'The Lovely Bones', Ms Sebold's follow-up novel, 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.

The fate of the film adaptation of 'Lucky' was unclear in light of Mr Broadwater's exoneration. A message seeking comment was left with its new executive producer, Jonathan Bronfman of Toronto-based JoBro Productions.

Sebold had no comment on the decision, a spokesman for Scribner, which published “Lucky,” told the New York Times. The spokesman said that the publisher had no plans to update the text.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting