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Why was the man whom Alice Sebold just helped convict acquitted? Tom Leonard asks


Noted novelist Alice Sebold was a first-year student at Syracuse University in upstate New York when she was raped in May 1981.

The terrifying ordeal was going to define her writing career.

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.

Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, inherited the same shocking literary groove, with the cover proclaiming: “In the tunnel in which she was raped, a girl was murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. By comparison, they said, I was lucky.

Critics have criticized her unwavering characterization of rape, her determination to take her life away from her abuser, as well as her “courage to speak the unspeakable”.

The terrifying ordeal of acclaimed novelist Alice Sebold defined her writing career with her most famous novel, The Lovely Bones, published in 2002.

It seemed that she should be able to use a tragedy that might have ruined her life as inspiration for a wholly radiant literary career.

The only problem, it seems, is that she also destroyed another innocent life – the life of the man she identified in court as her attacker, who spent 16 years in prison for the crime of which he has now been acquitted.

On Monday, a Syracuse judge overturned the conviction of Anthony Broadwater at the request of the plaintiffs, who admitted serious flaws in the original trial.

Broadwater’s attorneys noted that Siebold initially identified a different man on a police identification show.

They also argued that the claim was based on a type of microscopic hair analysis that has since been debunked by forensic scientists.

Ironically, although Broadwater struggled for decades to clear his name, the success of his appeal can be attributed in large part to the producer of a film version of Siebold’s memoir that was in pre-production. Note that there are inconsistencies between the film’s script and her book.

Broadwater, 61, sobbed in court as Attorney General William Fitzpatrick said, “I’m not going to taint this action by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it. It should never have happened.”

Anthony Broadwater (centre), 61, interacts with Judge Gordon Coffey who has overturned the 40-year-old rape conviction that wrongly put him in state prison for the rape of Alice Sebold

Anthony Broadwater (centre), 61, interacts with Judge Gordon Coffey who has overturned the 40-year-old rape conviction that wrongly put him in state prison for the rape of Alice Sebold

Its publisher, Scribner, said Siebold, 58, had no comment on the decision. It added that there were no plans to update the contents of the memos, which covered the arrest and conviction of the alleged attacker.

In a 2003 interview she said, “Everyone in my case said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t look at the rapist when you go to court because he’s going to try to intimidate you.’ And as soon as they told me that, I knew I would. I looked at him deeply and didn’t take my eyes off him, so he turned and looked. Down.

For his part, Broadwater said he sympathized “really and strongly” with the author. “Something happened,” he said, “but I wasn’t the one.”

“I only hope and pray that Mrs. Siebold will come forward and say, ‘Hey, I made a huge mistake,’ and give me an apology.

Broadwater, who has passed two polygraph tests testifying to his innocence, said his life was marred by his conviction. After his release from prison in 1999 after the end of his sentence, he remained on the public sex offenders registry and was ostracized by friends, family and employers.

Emotion depicts Anthony Broadwater embracing his cousin in court after a judge overturned his rape conviction

Emotion depicts Anthony Broadwater embracing his cousin in court after a judge overturned his rape conviction

He was forced to do odd jobs and manual chores in order to get by, specifically working night shifts so he would have an excuse if there was another attack like Sebold’s rape in the middle of the night.

He said his wife, Elizabeth, wanted to have children but he refused, saying he didn’t want them to live with the stigma of his conviction. His supposed crime was there for all to see.

In Sebold’s 1999 memoir, the accused described what happened to her as she walked home through a park near her university campus.

The 18-year-old was grabbed from behind, beaten, cut and dragged into a bottle-filled tunnel that was an underground entrance to an amphitheater.

Sebold, who was a virgin, said the monster who raped her told her, “You’re the worst you ever did.”

When he finished with her, Siebold asked her name. I couldn’t lie. ‘I had no other name to say,’ she said.

So were his parting words: “Nice to meet you, Alice…See you in a while.”

Writer Alice Siebold, 58, received an honorary doctorate in the humanities at Boston University in 2016.

Writer Alice Siebold, 58, received an honorary doctorate in the humanities at Boston University in 2016.

She said she immediately notified campus security and went to the police. Broadwater, then a 20-year-old US Marine, was arrested five months later, after Siebold walked past a man she was sure was her attacker in the street.

He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me,’ she wrote in Lucky.

It was a walk in the park for him; He had met an acquaintance on the street. He said, “Hey girl.” “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Siebold said she didn’t reply: ‘I looked straight at him. He knew his face was mine on top of me in the tunnel.

She called the police, and Broadwater, who was supposedly seen in the area, was arrested. However, Siebold then failed to be identified in a police motorcade.

She chose a different man as her attacker because she wrote, “The expression in his eyes told me that if we were alone, if there was no wall between us, he would call me by name and then kill me.”

However Broadwater was tried the following year. The result of the police lineup was mentioned at the trial, but when Siebold appeared on the witness stand, she identified the accused as her rapist.

An expert witness told the court that microscopic hair analysis linked Broadwater to the crime. He was convicted of rape and sodomy, and sentenced to 8 to 25 years in prison.

The film adaptation of The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson in 2009, starred actress Saoirse Ronan, who played protagonist Susie Salmon.

The film adaptation of The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson in 2009, starred actress Saoirse Ronan, who played protagonist Susie Salmon.

Siebold, the daughter of a Spanish lecturer, moved to New York, and while working as a waitress trying to establish herself as a writer, she began taking heroin. You’ve struggled with romantic relationships, and found sex “like gnashing your teeth on a spooky carnival ride that those around you seem to enjoy.”

She later decided she was suffering from PTSD and underwent treatment.

Her debut novel, The Lovely Bones, was published in 2002, three years after her memoir—which was met with scant attention—and was an instant success, selling five million copies.

The story is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon, who – speaking from heaven – tells how a neighbor lured her to an underground bunker and then raped and killed her.

Siebold has admitted that had she not been raped, she would not have written The Lovely Bones.

After the success of the novel, Lucky was reissued and became a bestseller. In 2019, it was announced that Lucky would also be turned into a feature film, although yesterday it was reported that the project had been abandoned several months ago due to funding issues.

In a pre-production context, executive producer Timothy Moshiante began to question the story behind it. “I began to have some doubts, not about the story Alice told of her assault, which was tragic, but about the second part of her book—about the trial, which did not hold together,” he said.

He was so skeptical that he left production in June and hired a private investigator named Dan Myers to look into the case. On the basis of his findings, Mucciante became convinced of Broadwater’s innocence.

Alice Sebold recounted the horrific 1981 rape experience in her memoir Lucky, first published in 1998.

Alice Sebold recounted the horrific 1981 rape experience in her memoir Lucky, first published in 1998.

His concerns were addressed by attorneys appointed by Broadwater, who argued at a subsequent appeal hearing that the original trial had hinged on two unreliable evidence–Seebold’s identification of Broadwater and hair evidence provided by a forensic chemist. They said both were defective.

They said that the fact that the writer had initially chosen another man in the ID review – he told the trial that he and Broadwater looked like twins – was enough to arouse reasonable doubt.

As for the hair evidence, the prosecution’s forensic expert said at the trial that the rapist’s hair samples found on her body were “consistent” with Broadwater’s hair, but he could not say how many other people might have had similar hair.

He even admitted that there was a “possibility” that the hair belonged to someone other than the accused.

In 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey acknowledged an authority no less than he did that experiments conducted in the 1990s and earlier “give more weight to comparing hair than scientifically appropriate”.

“Hair is not the same as fingerprints, as there are no studies showing how many people have identical-looking hair fibers,” he added.

David Hammond, Broadwater’s current attorney, was more dismissive: “Sprinkling some unwanted science on a false identification is a perfect recipe for a false conviction.”

However, he conceded that in the absence of DNA evidence – evidence collected at the time no longer exists – no one would know for sure.



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