NY to Pay Broadwater $5.5 Million After Wrongful Conviction for Sebold’s Rape
New York State has agreed to pay $5.5 million to a man who spent 16 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of raping the author Alice Sebold when she was a college student in Syracuse, N.Y., lawyers for the man said on Monday.
The agreement would end a lawsuit filed by the man, Anthony J. Broadwater, 62, after his rape conviction was vacated in November 2021 by a state court judge who concluded that the case against Mr. Broadwater was deeply flawed.
The settlement was signed by lawyers for Mr. Broadwater and from the office of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, last week. It still requires a judge’s signature, but one of Mr. Broadwater’s lawyers, Melissa Swartz, said that the judge, Ramón E. Rivera of the state Court of Claims, had verbally approved it last month.
“No amount of money will ever give Tony his life back,” Ms. Swartz said. “But he thinks it’s a fair resolution with the State of New York.”
Mr. Broadwater was particularly glad, Ms. Swartz said, that the state’s lawyers had not insisted that he sit for a deposition and revisit the events. “That would be extremely difficult for Tony to go through,” she said.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment on Monday.
Ms. Sebold was an 18-year-old freshman at Syracuse University when she was raped in a park near campus in 1981. She described the assault in raw detail in her 1999 memoir, “Lucky,” a precursor to her best-selling novel, “The Lovely Bones,” which also involves the rape of a teenager. In the memoir, she used the fictitious name Gregory Madison for the man who had raped her.
As she wrote in “Lucky,” Ms. Sebold told campus security about the attack immediately and then went to the police. After evidence was collected from a rape kit, she wrote, she described her attacker to the police, but the resulting composite sketch did not resemble him.
Mr. Broadwater was arrested five months later, after Ms. Sebold passed him on the street and contacted the police, saying she might have seen the man who had raped her.
She subsequently identified a different man in a police lineup. She wrote in “Lucky” that Mr. Broadwater and the man next to him looked alike and that soon after making her choice, she felt it was the wrong one. She later identified Mr. Broadwater in court.
Mr. Broadwater’s lawyers argued that prosecutorial misconduct had sullied the police lineup — that the prosecutor had falsely told Ms. Sebold that Mr. Broadwater and the man next to him were friends who had purposely appeared in the lineup together to trick her. The lie, Mr. Broadwater’s lawyers said, had improperly influenced Ms. Sebold’s testimony.
Mr. Broadwater left prison in 1998 and was struggling to put his life back together when “Lucky” was published. His effort to start anew was hampered by the requirement that he register as a sex offender.
Eventually, in part because of doubts raised by a planned film adaptation of the memoir, he hired Ms. Swartz and her colleague J. David Hammond to clear his name. In their motion to vacate the conviction, they argued that the case had relied entirely on Ms. Sebold’s identification of him in court and on a now-discredited method of microscopic hair analysis.
William J. Fitzpatrick, the current Onondaga County, N.Y., district attorney, joined the motion to vacate the conviction. He noted that witness identifications of strangers, particularly across racial lines — Ms. Sebold is white; Mr. Broadwater, Black — are often unreliable.
In 2021, Justice Gordon J. Cuffy of State Supreme Court in Onondaga County overturned Mr. Broadwater’s conviction for first-degree rape and five related charges. As a result, he was no longer required to register as a sex offender.
“It’s a long day coming,” Mr. Broadwater said then.
In addition to suing the state, Mr. Broadwater filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse, as well as an assistant district attorney and a police officer who were involved in prosecuting him. That case is pending.
After leaving prison, Mr. Broadwater has largely relied on temporary jobs: working at a metal plating factory, bagging potatoes, doing yardwork and roofing, mopping floors, scavenging for scrap metal. One thing he hopes to do as result of the settlement with the state, Ms. Swartz said, is buy a small house in a rural area where he and his partner can live.
About a week after Mr. Broadwater’s conviction was vacated, Ms. Sebold apologized to him in a statement posted online. She said she regretted having “unwittingly” played a part in “a system that sent an innocent man to jail.”
“I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you,” she wrote. “And I know that no apology can change what happened to you and never will.”
Mr. Broadwater said at the time that he was “relieved and grateful” for the apology, that “it took a lot of courage” and that “she was a victim and I was a victim too.”
Ms. Swartz said on Monday that he still felt that way. “He has always been very empathetic toward her and continues to be,” she said.
Ms. Sebold could not immediately be reached on Monday.
Karen Zraick contributed reporting.