For decades, throughout his years in prison and even after he was released, Anthony Broadwater insisted he was innocent of the rape of “The Lovely Bones” author Alice Sebold, a crime she described in her memoir, “Lucky.”
Convicted in 1982, Broadwater spent more than 16 years in prison. He was denied parole at least five times because he wouldn’t admit to a crime he didn’t commit, according to his attorneys. And he passed two lie detector tests.
Broadwater, 61, tried five times to get the conviction overturned. And even after he was released, he didn’t give up. But it didn’t happen – until Monday, when New York State Supreme Court Justice Gordon Cuffy vacated the rape conviction and other counts related to it.
The Onondaga County District Attorney joined in the motion to vacate the conviction.
Sebold described the rape, which happened when she was a freshman at Syracuse University in 1981, in painstaking detail in her memoir. It was published in 1999, the year after Broadwater’s release from prison.
Almost five months after she was raped, Sebold saw Broadwater on the street in Syracuse. He reminded her of the rapist, and she reported the encounter to police, according to Broadwater’s attorneys’ affirmation. But later, she failed to identify Broadwater in a police lineup.
Broadwater was convicted on two pieces of evidence – Sebold’s account – a cross-racial identification, since the author is White and Broadwater is Black – and the analysis of a piece of hair that was later determined to be faulty, his attorneys wrote.
“Research has found that the risk of eyewitness misidentification is significantly increased when the witness and the subject are of different races,” the affirmation stated.
As to the hair analysis, in 2015, “the FBI testified that microscopic hair analysis contained errors in at least 90 percent of the cases the agency reviewed,” according to the attorneys’ news release.
“We know now that the testimony of the forensic chemist stemmed from a largely debunked forensic approach to hair microscopy,” the affirmation stated.
In “Lucky,” Sebold wrote that “a detective and a prosecutor told her after the lineup that she picked out the wrong man and how the prosecutor deliberately coached her into rehabilitating her misidentification,” according to the affirmation.
CNN has reached out to Sebold and her publishing company multiple times for comment.
The unreliability of the hair analysis and the conversation between the prosecutor and Sebold after the lineup would probably have led to a different verdict if it had been presented at trial, the attorneys said.
“I won’t sully these proceedings by saying I’m sorry,” District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said in the courtroom. “That doesn’t cut it. This should never have happened.”
Broadwater broke down in tears when the judge announced his decision.
“When the district attorney spoke to me, his words were so profound – so strong – it shook me,” Broadwater told CNN on Wednesday. “It made me cry with joy and happiness because a man of this magnitude would say what he said on my behalf … it’s, it’s beyond whatever I can say myself.”
After his release, Broadwater remained on a sex offender list. He described how the conviction had ruined his life.
He struggled to find work after getting out of jail when employers found out about his criminal record.
“I did what I could do, and that was just you know – creating work for myself doing landscaping, tree removal, hauling, clean-outs,” he said.
His wife wanted children, but “I wouldn’t bring children in the world because of this. And now, we’re past days, we can’t have children,” Broadwater told reporters after the court hearing.
The couple met in 1999, about a year after he was released from prison, he told CNN. After their first date, he gave her the transcripts and other documents from his case, telling her to read them and decide if she wanted to be with him.
“She believed me and she gave me more strength,” he said. “I just wanted a better quality of life, but I could never get a better quality of jobs.”
Part of the reason Broadwater’s attorneys, J. David Hammond and Melissa Swartz, got involved in the case is thanks to Tim Mucciante, who was involved in a project to develop a film adaptation of “Lucky.”
Mucciante “had doubts that the story was the way that it was being portrayed in the film,” said Hammond, which led him to hire a private investigator who is associated with their law firm.
“It didn’t take long, digging around, that we realized, OK, there’s something here,” said Hammond. He and Swartz listened to the transcript of the trial and found “serious legal issues,” which prompted them to bring a motion, he said.
Hammond and Swartz are at least the fifth set of lawyers he hired to help with his case, Broadwater said.
“I never gave up. I could never, ever give up and live under these conditions … I was going to do everything I could to prove my innocence,” he said.
Days after the judge’s decision, Broadwater said, “it feels so surreal, I’m still soaking it in. I’m kind of like – afraid in a sense. I’m so happy.”
As to Sebold, Broadwater said he would like an apology.
“I sympathize with her, what happened to her,” he said. “I just hope there’s a sincere apology. I would accept it. I’m not bitter or have malice towards her.”