New York to pay $5.5 million to man exonerated of Alice Sebold’s rape
New York state has agreed to pay $5.5 million to the man who spent 16 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of raping writer Alice Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University. His lawyers announced the settlement on Monday.
The settlement comes after Anthony Broadwater’s conviction for raping Sebold in 1981 was overturned in 2021. It was signed last week by lawyers for Broadwater and New York Attorney General Letitia James, David Hammond, one of Broadwater’s attorneys, said.
Broadwater, 62, said in a statement relayed by Hammond, “I appreciate what Attorney General James has done, and I hope and pray that others in my situation can achieve the same measure of justice. We all suffer from destroyed lives.”
“Obviously no amount of money can erase the injustices Mr. Broadwater suffered, but the settlement now officially acknowledges them,” Sebold said in a statement released through a spokesperson.
Sebold was an 18-year-old first-year student at Syracuse when she was raped in a park near campus in May 1981. She described the attack and the ensuing prosecution in a memoir, “Lucky,” published in 1999. The book was pulled from school bookshelves across the U.S. multiple times during the 2021-2022 academic year due to its graphic descriptions of rape and stopped being distributed after a state court judge vacated Broadwater’s conviction, finding that the case that led to his initial conviction was flawed.
Sebold went on to win acclaim for her 2002 novel “The Lovely Bones,” which recounts the aftermath of a teenage girl’s rape and murder and was made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.
Sebold, who is White, wrote in “Lucky” that she spotted a Black man in the street months after being raped and was sure that he 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,” Sebold wrote. ” ‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ “
Police arrested Broadwater, who was given the pseudonym Gregory Madison in “Lucky.” But Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup, picking a different man as her attacker.
Broadwater was nonetheless tried and convicted in 1982 after Sebold identified him as her rapist on the witness stand and an expert said microscopic hair analysis had tied Broadwater to the crime. That type of analysis has since been deemed junk science by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Broadwater was released from prison in 1999. But he still had to register as a sex offender until his conviction was vacated in November 2021.
William J. Fitzpatrick, the current district attorney for Onondaga County, the central New York county that includes Syracuse, joined the motion to vacate the conviction, noting that witness identifications, particularly across racial lines, are often unreliable.
Broadwater’s settlement with the state must be approved by a judge before it becomes final.
“Anthony Broadwater was convicted for a crime he never committed, and was incarcerated despite his innocence. While we cannot undo the wrongs from more than four decades ago, this settlement agreement is a critical step to deliver some semblance of justice to Mr. Broadwater,” James said in an emailed statement.
Broadwater has also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Onondaga County, the city of Syracuse and an assistant district attorney and a police officer who were involved in prosecuting him. That case is pending.
Sebold apologized to Broadwater in a 2021 statement released to The Associated Press and later posted on Medium.
“40 years ago, as a traumatized 18-year-old rape victim, I chose to put my faith in the American 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,” Sebold wrote. “I am grateful that Mr. Broadwater has finally been vindicated, but the fact remains that 40 years ago, he became another young Black man brutalized by our flawed legal system. I will forever be sorry for what was done to him.”
Sebold added, “I will remain sorry for the rest of my life that while pursuing justice through the legal system, my own misfortune resulted in Mr. Broadwater’s unfair conviction for which he has served not only 16 years behind bars but in ways that further serve to wound and stigmatize, nearly a full life sentence.”