Anthony Broadwater, now 61, was found guilty of raping Sebold in 1981 after the author identified him as her attacker in court, despite having previously failed to pick him out in an identity parade. Sebold went on to write about her assault in her bestselling 1999 memoir Lucky.
In a twist of fate, Broadwater’s exoneration came about as a result of a planned Netflix adaptation of that memoir, after Tim Mucciante, an executive producer on the project, grew sceptical of significant differences between the film’s script and the original book.
‘I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,’ he told AP News, leading him to drop out of the project and hire a private investigator to look into the case.
A subsequent re-examination found that Broadwater’s conviction had rested on a faulty identification and ‘hair analysis’ – a type of forensic analysis that is now considered ‘junk science’.
Prosecutors requested that a Syracuse judge vacate Broadwater’s conviction, and issued an apology to him for the injustice. ‘I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it. This should never have happened,’ district attorney William Fitzpatrick told the New York State Supreme Court.
‘When he spoke to me about the wrong that was done to me, I couldn’t help but cry. The relief that a district attorney of that magnitude would side with me in this case, it’s so profound, I don’t know what to say,’ Broadwater said, adding ‘I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,’ MailOnline reports.
Having been released from prison in 1999, Broadwater remained on the New York sex offenders registry, and said his conviction harmed his job prospects and personal relationships, and led to him refusing to have children because of the ‘stigma’ he carried.
In her memoir, Sebold said she’d been told she’d picked out two different men, describing them as ‘almost identical’. She wrote that she feared the defence would conclude 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 author has not commented on Broadwater’s exoneration.