Author Alice Sebold has issued a public apology, and Netflix has reportedly scrapped plans to adapt her 1999 memoirs Lucky after the man she accused of raping her overturned his sentence.
By exploring Sebold’s experience of being attacked and beaten by a stranger when she was a student at Syracuse University in the early 1980s, Lucky went on to sell more than a million copies, while Anthony Broadwater – the man at the center of the story – went to jail for 16 years.
The Lovely Bones writer says she is now struggling with the role she played “within a system that sent an innocent man to jail” after prosecutors re-investigating the case found there were serious flaws in Mr Broadwaters arrest and trial.
“And certainly not forever and irreparably to change a young man’s life by the very crime that had changed mine.”
Why was Broadwater convicted in the first place?
Released in 1999, the title of the memoir itself was inspired by a conversation with a police officer who told Sebold that she was “lucky” she had not been killed during the ordeal.
Months after the attack, she wrote about seeing a black man on the street who she thought was her attacker.
Sebold, who is white, went to the police and an officer concluded that the man must have been Mr. Broadwater, which was reportedly seen in the area.
After he was arrested, Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup and chose another man as her attacker because she was afraid of “the expression in his eyes”.
But the prosecution still brought Mr Broadwater to justice. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years, mainly based on Sebold identifying him as her rapist at the witness stand and testifying that microscopic hair analysis had bound him to the crime.
That type of analysis has since been considered junk science by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Because he refused to admit the crime, Mr Broadwater was denied parole five times before being released in 1998 – about a year before Lucky would be released.
Why did it take 40 years before the errors came to light?
A planned Netflix adaptation of Lucky reportedly helped sow the seeds of doubt about Mr Broadwater’s beliefs.
Executive producer Timothy Mucciante had been working on the project this year when he began noticing inconsistencies between the memoirs and the script.
“I began to be in doubt, not about the story that Alice told about her assault, which was tragic, but the second part of her book about the trial, which was not connected,” said Mr. Mucciante to the New York Times.
Convinced of Broadwater’s innocence, Mucciante left production in June and hired a private detective to review the case.
At the investigator’s suggestion, they gathered the evidence and gave it to defense attorney David Hammond, who had hired Mr. Broadwater “around the same time,” based on the recommendation of another local attorney.
Case marked by “prosecutor’s dishonesty” and erroneous ID
In their motion to have Mr Broadwater’s conviction overturned, Mr Hammond and his defense lawyer Melissa Swartz argued that the case was based solely on Sebold’s courtroom identification and a “now discredited method of microscopic hair analysis”.
They also claimed that the prosecution’s dishonesty was a factor in the police line – up, suggesting that the prosecutor had mistakenly told Sebold that Mr Broadwater and the man next to him were known to each other and had sat down to try to fool her.
It is clear that the New York State Supreme Court agreed to drop the rape sentence and other matters related to it.
“It does not matter. This should never have happened.”
What did Alice Sebold say?
In response to the development, Sebold issued a statement apologizing to Mr Broadwater “for the fact that the life you could have lived was wrongfully robbed of you”.
“I will forever be sorry for what was done to him.”
Sebold added that she would “continue to struggle with the role I unknowingly played in a system that sent an innocent man to prison,” Sebold said she “would also struggle with the fact that my rapist after all probability will never be known “.
“[They] may have raped other women, and will certainly never serve the time in prison that Mr Broadwater did. “
According to Variety, a Netflix adaptation of Lucky – who was set to play You actress Victoria Pedretti – was abandoned after losing its funding “months ago”.
A spokesman for Scribner, Sebold’s publisher, told The Guardian that “Scribner has no plans to update the text to Lucky at this time”.
How has Broadwater responded?
Sir. Broadwater collapsed when the judge announced his decision, describing how the sentence – and a requirement to remain on the register of sex offenders – had ruined his life.
“When the District Attorney spoke to me, his words were so deep – so strong – that it shook me,” said Mr. Broadwater to CNN.
Sir. Broadwater’s attorney Melissa Swartz said he had no comment on Sebold’s statement.
But he had previously told the New York Times that he hoped the author would come forward and apologize.
“I just hope and pray that Mrs Sebold might come forward and say, ‘Hey, I made a serious mistake’ and give me an apology,” he said.
“I sympathize with her, but she was wrong.”
ABC / AP