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Bestselling author Alice Sebold wrote 'Lucky' about her sexual assault. But it wasn’t the whole story.

Warning: This post deal with sexual assault could be triggering for some readers.

It took a movie producer of the film adaptation of Alice Sebold's memoir Lucky to find the truth. 

Tasked with turning the bestselling author's 1999 recollection of being beaten and raped in 1981 into a box office hit, Timothy Mucciante noticed some issues with the trial and subsequent conviction of Anthony J. Broadwater who spent 16 years in prison for the crime. 

So in 2021 he hired a private investigator, reports the New York Times.

The result of his prying led to the exoneration of a conviction that destroyed Broadwater's life.

All while Sebold profited from the story. 

Anthony Broadwater speaks with NBC News after being exonerated. Post continues below.

Video via NBC News.

The allegation. 

In the early hours of May 8, 1981, Sebold says she was walking home through a tunnel near Syracuse University, where she was a first-year, when she was approached by a Black man with a knife. 

He told her if she screamed or made any noise, he'd kill her. Aged 18 at the time, she was raped and beaten in an attack so traumatic Alice writes that the experience went on to shape the rest of her life.

When she reported the crime to police, she was told that a young woman had once been murdered and dismembered in the same place. The police told her she was "lucky," hence the title for her memoir.

At the beginning of her sophomore year of university, months on from the attack and with no leads to speak of, Sebold spotted a man she believed to be the person who raped her.

Alice went on to become a bestselling author. Image: Mark Sullivan/WireImage. 

"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," she wrote. “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”

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“I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel," she continued.

She alerted police and they searched the area, but couldn't find him. A young Black man by the name of Anthony J Broadwater who apparently frequented the same area, was suggested as a possible suspect.

Consequence reports he'd returned home to Syracuse from a stint in the marines to spend time with his sick father. He had no criminal record. 

In a police line-up Sebold failed to identify the then 20-year-old. She picked a different man, telling police she recognised the "expression in his eyes".

And yet Broadwater was tried and convicted of the attack, serving more than 16 years in prison for the crime.

The trial and aftermath.

On the witness stand, despite picking another man in the line-up, Sebold identified Broadwater as her attacker, reported The Associated Press.

It was that, along with a form of hair analysis that's since been discredited, that tied Broadwater to the crime. 

In her memoir, Sebold wrote that when she was informed she had picked someone other than the man she’d previously identified as her rapist, she said the two men looked "almost identical". 

She said moments after her choice in the line-up she'd changed her mind. 

Listen to True Crime Conversations: ‘Nightmare of errors’. The case of Kelvin Condren. Post continues after audio.

Broadwater spent 16 years in prison and was released in 1999 but has spent the proceeding decades on the US sex offender's registry.

He has struggled to get work, finding jobs as a garbage man and a handyman over the years. Where he could, he'd take on night shifts so police couldn't implicate him in another late-night attack. 

Despite marrying, he never had children because, "I could never, ever allow kids to come into this world with a stigma on my back," reported AP.

Meanwhile Sebold went on to publish her memoir detailing the experience in 1999. 

Her bestseller The Lovely Bones, which was also centred around sexual assault, was published in 2002. It became a New York bestseller and attracted internationally acclaim before being turned into a successful movie in 2009.

Netflix was due to do the same to her memoir in 2021.

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A private detective and an exoneration. 

Timothy Muccianti became involved after signing on to executive produce a film adaptation of Lucky which was set to star Victoria Pedretti from Netflix’s You, according to Variety.

After noticing some discrepancies between the screenplay and the memoir, he started having doubts. 

"Not about the story that Alice told about her assault, which was tragic, but the second part of her book about the trial, which didn’t hang together," he told the New York Times.

After leaving the project in June he decided to hire a private investigator, the result of which was handed on to Broadwater's legal team.

In their motion to vacate the conviction, his defence attorneys argued that the case relied solely on Sebold’s identification of Broadwater in the courtroom and a now-discredited method of hair analysis. They also said there was prosecutorial misconduct, accusing a lawyer of falsely telling Sebold the man standing next to Broadwater was his friend, and they'd appeared together to try to trick her, as reported by the Times.

Broadwater's conviction was overturned after his lawyers successfully argued that the case against him was seriously flawed. 

The now 61-year-old sat with his head in his hands sobbing as the judge read out the news. 

This week Judge Gordon Cuffy overturned the 40-year-old  conviction that wrongfully put Anthony Broadwater in state prison for Alice Sebold's rape. Image: Katrina Tulloch/The Post-Standard via AP. 

"I’ve been crying tears of joy and relief the last couple of days," he told The Associated Press. “I’m so elated, the cold can’t even keep me cold."

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Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick conceded: "I'm not going to sully this proceeding by saying, 'I'm sorry.' That doesn't cut it. This should never have happened.

"And I will say to Mr. Broadwater that I assure him that it will never happen again; that we will never let junk science into a courtroom in this county," he said, as reported by The Post-Standard of Syracuse.

The Telegraph reports Broadwater had no idea Sebold had written a book about her ordeal that had gone on to sell more than a million copies. While she was doing press for the book, the publication explains, he was too busy trying to adapt to post-prison life.

Even now, he lives in a derelict apartment with tarps on the windows to protect himself and his wife from the cold. He's been scrimping over the years raising money for legal fees trying to prove his innocence. 

As he returns to the world a free man, he'd like an apology. 

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"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." 

The apology.

On Tuesday this week, Sebold publicly apologised for her part in Broadwater's wrongful conviction.

In a statement released to the Associated Press, Sebold said that as a "traumatised 18-year-old rape victim" she chose to put her faith in the US legal system.

"My goal in 1982 was justice: not to perpetuate injustice. And certainly not to forever, and irreparably, alter a young man's life by the very crime that had altered mine."

"I am grateful that Mr Broadwater has finally been vindicated, but the fact remains that 40 years ago, he became another young Black man brutalised by our flawed legal system. I will forever be sorry for what was done to him."

An attorney for Broadwater said he had no comment.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature image: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty/Katrina Tulloch/The Post-Standard via AP/Mamamia.

This post was originally published on November 26, 2021 and was updated on December 1, 2021.