How a Netflix producer brought justice to a man wrongly convicted of 1981 rape case

A judge cleared Anthony Broadwater on Monday, November 22, of raping author Alice Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University

                            How a Netflix producer brought justice to a man wrongly convicted of 1981 rape case
Producer Timothy Mucciante (R) was not convinced that Anthony Broadwater (L) was guilty (Twitter/@katrinatulloch, IMDb)

A former US Marine, who was convicted of raping author Alice Sebold four decades ago, has been exonerated after a producer working on a Netflix adaptation of the writer's memoir noticed glaring inconsistencies in the story.

A judge cleared Anthony Broadwater on Monday, November 22, of raping Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University. She wrote about the alleged assault in her 1999 memoir "Lucky", which was in the process of being filmed for a Netflix adaptation. However, it was because of the production company itself that Broadwater's conviction was overturned 40 years later. Tim Mucciante, who has a production firm called Red Badge films, had signed on as executive producer of the adaptation but became skeptical of Broadwater's guilt after going through the first draft of the script for undisclosed reasons.


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“I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” Mucciante told the Associated Press on Tuesday, November 23. He said that he dropped out of the project earlier this year and hired a private investigator, who reportedly put him in touch with Broadwater's attorney, David Hammond, of Syracuse-based CDH Law, who then brought in fellow defense lawyer Melissa Swartz, of Cambareri & Brenneck.

Both Hammond and Swartz credited Mucciante and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick for taking a personal interest in the case and applauding the latter for understanding that modern scientific techniques had cast doubt on the use of hair analysis, the only type of forensic evidence that was presented at Broadwater's trial to link him to the alleged rape. 

Broadwater was just 20-years-old and had recently returned home after serving with the Marines when he was accused of raping Sebold. He broke down in tears Monday as the judge in Syracuse nullified his conviction at the request of prosecutors. “I’ve been crying tears of joy and relief the last couple of days,” Broadwater, 61, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I’m so elated, the cold can’t even keep me cold.” Onondaga County DA Fitzpatrick told state Supreme Court Justice Gordon Cuffy in court that Broadwater’s prosecution was an injustice, as reported by the Post-Standard of Syracuse. “I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it,” Fitzpatrick asserted. “This should never have happened.”



58-year-old Sebold wrote in "Lucky" that she was raped as a freshman at Syracuse in May 1981 before she spotted a Black man in the street months later that she was convinced was her attacker. “He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street,” wrote Sebold. “'Hey, girl,' he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’” She said she didn't respond, adding, “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”

The author subsequently went to the authorities without the man's name, and an initial sweep of the area failed to locate him. Broadwater was apprehended after an officer suggested the man in the street must have been him as he had supposedly been seen in the area. Sebold gave Broadwater the pseudonym Gregory Madison in her memoir. Following his arrest, however, Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup, picking a different individual as her attacker because "the expression in his eyes told me that if we were alone, if there were no wall between us, he would call me by name and then kill me.”

Nonetheless, Broadwater was tried and convicted in 1982 based on two pieces of evidence. Sebold identified him as her rapist on the witness stand. Meanwhile, a forensic expert said microscopic hair analysis had tied Broadwater to the crime. According to AP, the Justice Department has since deemed that type of analysis as junk science. “Sprinkle some junk science onto a faulty identification, and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Hammond told the Post-Standard of the case.

Despite finishing his prison term in 1999, Broadwater remained on New York's sex offender registry. He has worked as a trash hauler and handyman since he was released from custody. Speaking to AP, he explained how the rape conviction affected his job prospects and his relationships with friends and family members. Broadwater said he never wanted to have children even after he married a woman who believed in his innocence. “We had a big argument sometimes about kids, and I told her I could never, ever allow kids to come into this world with a stigma on my back,” he told the news agency.



That said, the fate of the film adaption of "Lucky" is now uncertain in light of Broadwater's exoneration. Sebold wrote in her book that when she was informed that she had picked someone other than the man she'd previously identified as her rapist, she responded by saying the two men looked "almost identical." She further wrote that she realized her defense would be 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.”

Sebold has written several novels, including “The Lovely Bones” and “The Almost Moon.” The former, which is about the rape and murder of a teen girl, won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003 and was even made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci, NBC 4 New York reported.

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