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The memoir 'Lucky' was about a real rape. The accused is now exonerated

SCOTT SIMON (HOST): A man convicted of the rape of a bestselling author, who wrote about her attack in a celebrated memoir, has been fully exonerated. That backstory, as NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us, unfolds like a thriller. But this is a story about real-life sexual violence, and what follows may be upsetting to some listeners.


NEDA ULABY (BYLINE): Anthony J. Broadwater wept in court last Tuesday in a video captured by syracuse.com after it was proved he was wrongly convicted for the 1981 rape of Alice Sebold. Sebold wrote the hugely popular novel "The Lovely Bones." It sold more than 8 million copies. The book is told from the point of view of a teenage girl in heaven after she's been killed and mutilated by a rapist. It was made into a movie in 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LOVELY BONES") SAOIRSE RONAN (ACTOR): (As Susie Salmon) I waited for justice. But justice did not come.

ULABY: Author Alice Sebold was only 18 years old when she was raped and beaten by a stranger in a park.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "LUCKY") ALICE SEBOLD (AUTHOR): (Reading) This is what I remember.

ULABY: Sebold reading from the audiobook of her harrowing 1999 memoir, "Lucky."

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "LUCKY") SEBOLD: (Reading) He said these words - I'll kill you if you scream. I remained motionless. Do you understand? If you scream, you're dead.

ULABY: Five months after her attack, Sebold, then a Syracuse University freshman, spotted Anthony Broadwater on the street and called the police saying she'd seen her assailant. She first picked the man sitting next to him in a police lineup but later identified Broadwater as her rapist in court. Broadwater always maintained his innocence. His conviction was based on two pieces of evidence - Siebold's identification and a now-discredited method of forensic hair analysis.


ULABY: In court this week, the Onondaga County district attorney apologized, saying junk science was used to convict Broadwater, along with a single identification. Dan Myers is a former police officer with the county.

DAN MYERS (PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR): Identifying people is difficult. The mind does some funny things, but I'm sure that her description of what happened is accurate.

ULABY: Myers says the reason why this case got reexamined is largely because of a planned movie adaptation of Alice Sebold's memoir. The executive producer became convinced while working on the script that there were issues with the story - not with Sebold's assault, which was real and horrific, but who got convicted for the crime. The producer was skeptical enough to leave the film. Timothy Mucciante used his own money to hire Dan Myers, now a private investigator, to research Broadwater's case.

MYERS: It was obvious to me that something was off because he had no other criminal history. He basically got picked up off the street and thrown into prison for this.

ULABY: Broadwater was released in 1998.

MYERS: And he still hadn't re-offended, which I thought was strange for such a horrible crime. He has always maintained his innocence in everything he went through. He's had so many opportunities to just confess to it, and his prison sentence would have been a lot shorter. He told me he had taken a polygraph on his own and passed it.

ULABY: Anthony Broadwater spent whatever money he had over the past two decades trying to clear his name. But after his exoneration, he told reporters that's time he'll never get back. And one of his heartbreaks, Broadwater added, was disappointing his wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) BROADWATER: She wanted children. I wouldn't bring children in the world because of this. And now we're past the age. We can't have children.

ULABY: The sort of flawed and flimsy evidence used to convict Broadwater has been used against thousands of other Black defendants. Meanwhile, the movie based on Sebold's memoir is no longer going forward, according to Variety. Neither Sebold nor the film's former producer had comment for NPR. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.