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Thursday, May 19, 2022

My role in clearing the man wrongly convicted for rape of Alice Sebold | World news

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 Anthony Broadwater, a 61-year-old resident of Syracuse, New York state, and former marine, was exonerated last week of the brutal rape, assault and robbery of best-selling author Alice Sebold. He was convicted in 1982.

Sebold was savagely attacked while walking home from a friend’s house late one night. Five months later, Sebold said she saw her attacker in Syracuse town centre.

Broadwater was arrested, placed in a police lineup, tried and convicted. He spent more than 16 years in prison and a further 23 years as a registered sex offender.

His exoneration would probably not have come about but for a strange and unusual series of events linked to my role as executive producer on the film adaptation of Sebold’s bestselling book, Lucky, her memoir about the attack.

When I first reviewed the book as a part of my preparations for the film, less than a year ago, I realised there were serious questions regarding the guilt of the man Sebold named in the book as Gregory Madison, the pseudonym she gave Anthony Broadwater.

On my first reading of the book, the portion regarding Sebold’s attempted identification of her assailant at a police lineup disturbed me. Broadwater was suspect number four in the police lineup, and Sebold selected suspect number five as her attacker.

Sebold writes in Lucky, “I placed my X in the number-five box. I had marked the wrong one.” Sebold further wrote, “Number four and five looked like identical twins.”

Sebold’s failure to identify her attacker should have been the end of the case, with Broadwater released. But it was not. Even with the lack of identification, the district attorney still took Broadwater to trial and he was convicted.

This miscarriage of justice seemed obvious, and I pointed it out to my production team colleagues. I was assured that the publisher had fact-checked and vetted the book, so I should have confidence in the source material.

However, as time went on, other aspects of the production raised red flags for me, such as the insistence of director Karen Moncrieff on changing the race of the actor playing Broadwater from a black actor to a white actor.

Moncrieff’s reasoning was that she wanted to dispel the racial stereotype of a black man raping a white woman, but as the actual perpetrator had been African-American, this did not make sense to me.

Perhaps she had misgivings herself about the case, and wanted to make the film version as removed as possible from the book, to “fictionalise” it, as it were.

As executive producer, I refused to continue funding the project. I then hired Dan Myers, a private investigator in Syracuse, and within 48 hours we knew Gregory Madison’s real name, and the basic facts behind the case. It quickly became clear that he was innocent of the crime for which he was accused and had spent many years in prison.

This case has received a good deal of media attention, and one question I am asked on a regular basis is who’s to blame? Is it Sebold, the American justice system or both?

I do not believe that Sebold, as an 18-year-old rape victim, bears any blame. She was doing the best she could, being guided by an unethical and unscrupulous assistant district attorney.

But I do have questions about the 39-year-old Sebold who wrote Lucky. Before she wrote the book, she had reviewed the entire district attorney’s file, including the photo of the police lineup.

Would she not have realised, in retrospect, that suspects four and five were not similar in appearance? Wouldn’t she have had the opportunity to speak up at that time, to address her error, and vindicate her supposed attacker?

Without question, what Sebold endured on the night of 8 May 1981 was awful, unacceptable and tragic. But isn’t it equally tragic that she could have known, in the mid-1990s, that he was almost certainly not her attacker and could have tried to free him?

The American justice system obviously also failed Sebold and Broadwater. The assistant district attorney should never have allowed a case in which the victim could not identify the suspect to go to trial. It is not only a failure by that individual, but by every law enforcement and legal professional involved in that case.

God knows how many other times such a travesty has happened across America.

There is one other culprit that I believe bears some responsibility – and that is the media. Sebold had been interviewed countless times about Lucky, and about her later bestselling novel The Lovely Bones (which was also turned into a film).

Broadwater’s innocence had been hiding in plain sight. Any one of the many journalists interviewing Sebold could have pushed back on what was, at face value, an absurd story. A rape victim identifies the wrong suspect in a police lineup and the case goes to trial and the man goes to prison.

How does not one reporter stop and say, “Wait a minute – this doesn’t sound right?”

My common sense told me something was wrong with the story. That the obvious truth had been ignored raises the bigger question: how widespread is this?

I also have to admit that I could understand something of what Broadwater has been through – as I am myself a convicted felon, having served time for a bank fraud case and been disbarred from practising law, my original profession.

I told him when we met: “I, too, have been incarcerated. I know what it’s like.”

Thankfully, Broadwater, a person who refused to give up and refused to confess to a crime he did not commit, is not broken.

The same, sadly, cannot be said of the US justice system and the media and entertainment industry that simply did not scrutinise Sebold’s story sufficiently.

Timothy Mucciante’s Red Badge Films is producing a documentary about the Anthony Broadwater case called Unlucky.

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