A man wrongfully convicted of raping The Lovely Bones author Alice Sebold in 1981, a crime described in her 1999 memoir, has had his conviction overturned.
Anthony Broadwater, 61, shook with emotion and sobbed with his head in his hands as a judge vacated the conviction at the request of prosecutors on Monday.
“I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,” said Mr Broadwater, who spent 16 years in prison for the raping the celebrated author while she was a first-year student at Syracuse University in 1981.
Ms Sebold, 58, wrote of being attacked in her memoir Lucky, and then spotting a Black man in the street months later that she identified as her attacker.
“He was smiling as he approached. He recognised me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street,” Ms Sebold wrote.
“‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”
She said she didn’t respond: “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”
Ms Sebold went to police, but she didn’t know the man’s name and an initial sweep of the area failed to locate him.
An officer suggested the man in the street must have been Mr Broadwater, who had supposedly been seen in the area.
After Mr Broadwater was arrested, Ms Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup, picking a different man 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.”
Mr Broadwater was nonetheless tried and convicted in 1982 based largely on two pieces of evidence.
On the witness stand, Ms Sebold identified him as her rapist. 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 US Department of Justice, the Associated Press reported.
Ms Sebold’s 2003 book The Lovely Bones, about the rape and murder of a teenage girl, won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon and Michael Imperioli.
Lucky was also in the process of being adapted into a film, and it was while filmmakers were drafting a script for the film that they became skeptical of Mr Broadwater’s guilt.
Former executive producer Tim Mucciante said he wanted to learn more about the case after noticing inconsistencies between the first draft of the script and the book.
“I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” Mr Mucciante told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
After dropping out of the project, the filmmaker hired a private investigator, who put him in touch with David Hammond and Melissa Swartz of the Syracuse-based firm CDH Law.
They contacted Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who took a personal interest in the case and had an understanding of how scientific advances had cast doubt on the use of hair analysis.
On Monday, Mr Fitzpatrick told state Supreme Court Justice Gordon Cuffy that Mr Broadwater’s prosecution was an injustice.
“I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “This should never have happened.”
Outside court, Mr Broadwater told The Post-Standard of Syracuse the district attorney had personally apologised to before the court hearing.
“When he spoke to me about the wrong that was done to me, I couldn’t help but cry,” Mr Broadwater said.
“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.”
Mr Broadwater, who has worked as a trash hauler and a handyman in the years since his release from prison in 1999, told The Associated Press that the rape conviction had blighted his job prospects and his relationships with friends and family members.
Even after he married a woman who believed in his innocence, Mr Broadwater never wanted to have children.
He will now be struck from the sex offender’s register.
Ms Sebold’s publishers Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, told The Independent the author had no comment.
The fate of the film adaptation of Lucky is unclear.
The Associated Press contributed to this report