The young woman’s face was bruised in multiple places, her long brown hair matted with bits of leaves.
There was a fresh bump on the back of her head and a cut on the left side of her nose. Her tan cardigan and Calvin Klein jeans were streaked with dirt. Abrasions covered her body. Traces of blood and semen were found inside her vagina as well as on her underwear.
She was just 18, a freshman at Syracuse University who had arrived at the adjacent Crouse Irving Memorial Hospital in the early morning of May 8, 1981.
Her name was Alice Sebold. And she had been raped.
The assailant was a stranger, but Ms. Sebold had studied his appearance — his small but muscular build, the way he gestured, his eyes and lips.
And so, five months later, when she spotted a man named Anthony Broadwater near a restaurant on Marshall Street, Ms. Sebold knew she had solved her case. She reported him to the authorities, saying that Mr. Broadwater had said to her, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
At the trial the following year, Ms. Sebold took the stand and described how she had celebrated the last day of the school year at a friend’s apartment, then left to head back to her dormitory, following a brick path through Thornden Park.
She testified that a man had grabbed her from behind, punched her, threatened to kill her with a knife, dragged her by her hair, then raped her in what she described as a tunnel.
“Is there any doubt in your mind, Miss Sebold, that the person that you saw on Marshall Street is the person who attacked you on May 8 in Thornden Park?” the prosecutor asked.
“No doubt whatsoever.”
Years later, Ms. Sebold would recount in a best-selling memoir that she felt confident justice had been served. She had been sweaty and shaky by the end of her testimony but was bolstered by the words of a bailiff.
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years,” he said. “You are the best rape witness I’ve ever seen on the stand.”
From the Marine Corps to a police lineup
Anthony James Broadwater was born in Syracuse, the fourth of six boys, and lived for a while near Syracuse University, where his father worked as a janitor. He rarely set foot on campus, saying he felt that it was “off limits” to him and other young Black locals. Instead, he spent time at a community recreation center and the local Boys & Girls Club.
When he was about 5 years old, his mother died of pneumonia. It was he and his brother Wade who discovered her body on the couch in their living room.
Known as “Tony,” Anthony Broadwater was outgoing and rambunctious, often tussling with his siblings. Wade Broadwater recalled how his brother could get caught up in entertaining a crowd and was once stopped for letting kids ride on the roof of his car. While the police who patrolled the neighborhood were familiar with the brothers, Anthony Broadwater had never been accused of anything serious.
A skilled wrestler at Henninger High School, he dropped out around 17 and was intrigued when a Marine Corps recruiter said he could be on a flight to California within days. “I wanted to see the world and try to better myself,” he said.
Stationed at Twentynine Palms and Camp Pendleton, he ended up with a cyst on his wrist. He was discharged and received disability for the injury. He returned to Syracuse, where his father was ill with stomach cancer, and eventually took a job installing phones for a telecommunications company.
On Oct. 5, 1981, he and a friend drove over to Marshall Street, a stretch of restaurants and shops that had long served as a gathering place for college students. While his friend was inside a store, Mr. Broadwater recognized a police officer from his younger days. Later, in court, the officer and Mr. Broadwater would each remember calling out to the other, “Don’t I know you?”
The two made small talk, unaware that Ms. Sebold had passed Mr. Broadwater on the street and was watching their exchange.
Days later, Mr. Broadwater was taken into custody. Ms. Sebold had identified him as her rapist.
But when it came time for the police lineup, Ms. Sebold, who is white, looked at the Black men before her and indicated that her attacker was the last person in the row, Number Five. Mr. Broadwater was Number Four. She would insist an hour later that the two men had looked identical to her.
Studies would later show that misidentifications by eyewitnesses, especially those that are cross-racial, make up a large percentage of erroneous convictions.
Mr. Broadwater was charged with eight felony counts, including rape and sodomy. He was 20 years old.
‘He was emphatic throughout that they got the wrong guy’
In 1981, Syracuse was a city of 170,000 with a dwindling manufacturing industry. Located in Central New York at the edge of the Finger Lakes region, its economy had grown increasingly dependent on Syracuse University, although a disconnect loomed between students and their surroundings.
Locals, often called “townies,” were discouraged from going near the campus in the University Hill neighborhood in the center of the city. Black residents made up about 16 percent of the city’s population and tended to live in its poorer areas.
Onondaga County did not have a public defender’s division, so it relied on a list of volunteers in private practice who worked for a small hourly rate. The Broadwater case was assigned to Steven Paquette, a defense attorney two years into his career who had already represented dozens of clients.
Mr. Paquette, the son of a UPS driver, was the first in his family to attend college and was idealistic about criminal defense work. He often felt that his Black clients could not get a fair shake in a county where jury pools tended to be mostly white and conservative.
He found Mr. Broadwater to be unusual because he was intensely eager about cooperating with the district attorney’s office.
“He was emphatic throughout that they got the wrong guy,” recalled Mr. Paquette, now 66. “It was a disbelief coupled with a faith that once the facts were out, justice would be done for him.”
Mr. Paquette was one of more than two dozen people connected to Mr. Broadwater, Ms. Sebold or the rape case who spoke to The New York Times.
Times reporters also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and exhibits, as well as Ms. Sebold’s memoir, for this article.
Mr. Paquette encouraged Mr. Broadwater to opt for a bench trial. The judge, Walter T. Gorman, was considered a thoughtful and competent adjudicator.
The state’s case was to be presented by William Mastine, a confident prosecutor whose law career would end the following decade after he pleaded guilty to defrauding a client, according to court documents and news reports.
At 6-foot-6, Mr. Mastine usually towered over others in the courtroom and enjoyed facing off against another lawyer on a final stage. “It’s not a rush, just a satisfaction that what you’re doing is right,” said Mr. Mastine, now 74.
He had been handed the Broadwater case only a week before, he said. “Based upon everything we had in front of us, he was the guy,” he said.
The trial began on May 17, 1982 and lasted just two days. DNA analysis was unavailable at the time, but a forensic chemist testified that a pubic hair from a Black person that had been recovered from the rape kit was “consistent” with the hair sample Mr. Broadwater had submitted.
Hair comparison has since been discredited as an unreliable science that can match little beyond a person’s race and is responsible for many wrongful convictions.
Ms. Sebold held firm to her account.
“I could not have identified him as the man who raped me unless he was the man who raped me,” she testified.
Mr. Broadwater was the last to take the stand, the only witness to testify for the defense. His lawyer asked him to discuss his unique facial markings — features Ms. Sebold had never reported, although she had described being a centimeter away from her rapist.
“I have a scar underneath my chin, and I had an operation in ’74 on my eye,” Mr. Broadwater testified. “Also, I have a chipped tooth.”
In his closing argument, Mr. Mastine, the prosecutor, reminded the court that Ms. Sebold had been a virgin, a detail brought up more than once throughout the case.
Afterward, the defense was startled when Judge Gorman immediately announced he was ready to rule.
He declared simply and with no insight into his decision that Mr. Broadwater was guilty of rape in the first degree.
Mr. Broadwater was taken into custody, departing from a courtroom devoid of any friends or family members. He had not asked anyone to attend the trial, certain that he would walk free.
A flawed trial described in a memoir
Ms. Sebold would go on to write “The Lovely Bones,” a novel about a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered. Published in 2002, it reached the top of the New York Times best-seller list, selling more than 10 million copies before eventually being adapted into a film.
Its success led readers to discover “Lucky,” the 1999 memoir Ms. Sebold had written about her own rape, in which she had changed the name of her attacker to Gregory Madison.
The raw, personal account of her trauma served as inspiration for many sexual assault victims and impressed those who had already acknowledged her writing talent.
“She was a considered person, a deeply honest-to-the-core writer, unstinting and tenaciously unwilling to offer anything but her best,” said the poet Tess Gallagher, one of Ms. Sebold’s professors at Syracuse, in an email to The Times. Ms. Gallagher had also accompanied Ms. Sebold to the preliminary hearing for the assault case.
“I was beside her then and remember how terrified she was in that courtroom,” Ms. Gallagher said.
The memoir follows Ms. Sebold’s entire journey through the criminal justice system.
In one scene, she recounts how a prosecutor she trusted, named Gail Uebelhoer, told her that the man she identified in the lineup was a friend of Mr. Broadwater and had tricked her by staring menacingly.
According to the book, Ms. Uebelhoer then coached her into explaining away the misidentification in front of the grand jury. When reached by The Times, Ms. Uebelhoer declined to comment.
Even slight or inadvertent nudges during lineups have been shown to influence a victim’s memory. According to the Innocence Project, lineups should be conducted in a double-blind manner, where the administrator does not know which person is the suspect and the witness is not assured the suspect is present.
Ms. Sebold also described being given a short break while testifying, during which she received a visit from Judge Gorman, who warmly asked about her family. “His tone was more gentle than the one he used in court,” Ms. Sebold wrote. Judge Gorman died in 2009.
These passages would help illustrate the flaws in Mr. Broadwater’s case. But not for two more decades.
‘I don’t know how they did this to you’
While in prison, Mr. Broadwater obtained his G.E.D. and studied the law, trying repeatedly to get his case revisited. At one point he hoped to retain Johnnie Cochran, sending $1,000 saved from his disability payments and custodial job. But the lawyer’s firm returned the money, informing him it did not handle post-conviction matters.
Mr. Broadwater’s father, who believed in his innocence, wanted to help but was undergoing chemotherapy. He died in 1983.
At each parole hearing, Mr. Broadwater refused to admit guilt, despite knowing he would fare better if he expressed responsibility for the crime. He wondered if he would die in prison like the man he watched get fatally stabbed during a fight.
Sixteen years crept by. He was finally released on the last day of 1998. But freedom came with a cage. A sex offender on parole, he had to abide by a curfew and was prohibited from most workplaces.
He relied on temporary gigs, taking a job at a metal plating factory, bagging potatoes, doing yardwork and roofing, mopping floors, scavenging for scrap metal. Night jobs were helpful, because they gave him the alibi he had lacked when police questioned him about Ms. Sebold. He believed he had been home at the time but had no proof.
Whispers that he was a rapist were deafening. Friends were scarce. Mr. Broadwater’s computer use had to be monitored after he was released, so he found it easier just to never learn how to work one. Still, he continued to reach out to lawyers.
One disappeared with $1,400. Another failed to obtain Mr. Broadwater’s file, which had been sealed. When a car accident left Mr. Broadwater with a neck injury, he set aside most of the $30,000 payout, hoping he could find a lawyer to take his case.
He began dating Elizabeth a year after his release. She was Baptist like him, had a sincere way about her and was a homebody. He wasted no time handing her a file with information about his past.
“If you’re going to be in a relationship with me, this is what I’m going to be fighting all my life,” he said. She pored over the papers in tears. “I don’t know how they did this to you,” she said. “I’m going to be with you.”
They moved into the dilapidated house his father had left behind. She wanted children, but Mr. Broadwater felt it would be unfair to bring kids into his difficult world.
He learned of Ms. Sebold’s memoir around 2006, but he had no interest in reading what he considered his own horror story.
A faulty conviction gets a fresh look
It was in the hands of another convicted felon that the case against Mr. Broadwater began to unravel.
Timothy Mucciante was a disbarred lawyer from Michigan who had gone to prison multiple times for fraud. His most wild scheme was one in which he convinced investors he would buy condoms and latex gloves and trade them in Russia for chickens that would be sold in Saudi Arabia. He pocketed the money instead.
After his last prison stint ended in 2010, Mr. Mucciante hoped to reform himself, he said.
“I certainly have a lot to make up for in terms of what I owe the world,” he said in an interview.
Earlier this year, Mr. Mucciante was forging ahead in a new career, having started his own film production company. He had joined other producers who were adapting Ms. Sebold’s memoir and planning to film it in Toronto. He offered to cover the film’s entire budget of 6.5 million Canadian dollars.
As Mr. Mucciante read the script and the book, he was struck by how little evidence was presented at trial. He said he began to doubt the memoir’s veracity and withheld funding until he was dismissed from the project, which never got off the ground.
But three people who worked on the film said Mr. Mucciante did not raise questions about the memoir, and that his contract was terminated in early June because he failed to deliver the money he had promised, claims Mr. Mucciante disputes.
Court documents show Mr. Mucciante, 62, has filed for bankruptcy on at least a dozen occasions, but he told The Times that he is currently financially stable.
In late June, Mr. Mucciante decided to take a deeper look at Ms. Sebold’s trial. He found and hired Dan Myers, a retired detective who had spent 20 years with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and was working as a private investigator.
Mr. Myers learned that Gregory Madison from the book was in fact Anthony Broadwater. He told The Times that a police officer who worked on the case had offered him a stunning admission: He did not believe the right man had been caught.
Mr. Myers connected Mr. Broadwater with David Hammond, a criminal defense lawyer he worked with who had served as a judge advocate in the Army. Mr. Hammond also helped represent Chelsea Manning as she appealed her conviction for espionage.
Intrigued, Mr. Hammond reached out to Melissa Swartz, a lawyer at a different firm known for her forensic expertise.
The two were friends and liked to team up. One of their cases was taking years to put together. But as they separately combed through Mr. Broadwater’s files, they began feverishly texting each other.
After talking at length with Mr. Broadwater and reading Ms. Sebold’s memoir, the lawyers discovered the arguments they could make for exoneration were astonishingly obvious: The flawed hair comparison testimony. The heavy reliance on Ms. Sebold spotting her rapist five months afterward. The misidentification during the police lineup. The fact that Mr. Broadwater had passed two polygraph tests.
All of it illustrated what, Mr. Hammond said, was a travesty hiding in plain sight: “Forty years, yet all it took was someone to pick up the trial transcript and, frankly, talk to Anthony and read ‘Lucky.’”
Soon the same revelations were had by William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney who joined Mr. Broadwater’s lawyers in their motion to overturn the conviction. A handful of years ago, he said, he had instructed his staff to review cases that used hair comparison. Mr. Broadwater’s name never came up.
Mr. Fitzpatrick said he emailed with Ms. Sebold and asked her about conversations that, as depicted in the memoir, were improper.
Ms. Sebold, he said, told him that a long time had passed by the time she wrote the memoir and that she had written scenes as she remembered them.
On Nov. 22, Mr. Broadwater arrived at a courthouse a block away from the one that had entombed him in a false narrative. He was 61 years old, with gray in his braids and a forehead creased with age.
When the judge announced his exoneration, he let out a gasp, leaned forward and cried.
‘An earth-shattering change’
Ms. Sebold said she had learned a few weeks before Mr. Broadwater’s exoneration that the district attorney was re-evaluating the case.
“It’s hard to unravel a truth I now know to be false and that has been part of my life for forty years and my work for twenty, without my whole understanding of truth and justice falling apart,” she said through a spokesman in an email to The Times, adding that she hadn’t been able to think about much else.
“Every word I’ve read that Anthony Broadwater has said has made me see him as a man who, though brutalized, somehow came through it with a generous heart,” she said. “To go from thinking he was the man who raped me to believing he was an innocent victim is an earth-shattering change.”
In an earlier statement posted to Medium, Ms. Sebold said that her “goal in 1982 was justice — not to perpetuate injustice” and that she was now wrestling with the realization that her rapist went free.
She said that Mr. Broadwater had become “another young Black man brutalized by our flawed legal system.” She added: “I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you.”
Scribner, which published “Lucky,” has ceased its distribution and will consider along with Ms. Sebold how it might be revised. “To do justice to the new reality and all the ramifications of the past would be a huge undertaking,” Ms. Sebold said in her email. “It might also be amazing.”
Fans of the author now find themselves grappling with the news that Mr. Broadwater had been a victim, too.
“I bought her books,” wrote one woman who contributed to a GoFundMe set up for Mr. Broadwater by a friend of Mr. Mucciante. “I owed him.”
Ms. Sebold, who lives in San Francisco, also has supporters who empathize with her complicated story.
“That that thing should have so defined her life and her art, and now it comes back into her life yet again — my heart really goes out to her,” said the author Tobias Wolff, who had been Ms. Sebold’s professor at Syracuse and who said she had come to him, distressed, after seeing the man she thought had raped her.
Among those expressing empathy is Mr. Broadwater. “That was very strong and courageous of her to do that, I know that was weighing on her mind,” he said of her statement. “She went through an ordeal, and I went through one too.”
He plans to seek financial restitution from the state and is considering filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. A documentary about him, spearheaded by Mr. Mucciante, is in the works with the film production company Red Hawk Films, according to Mr. Mucciante and two other producers involved in the project.
Mr. Broadwater recently got help setting up his first email address, as well as an online bank account. He hopes he and Elizabeth can one day take a vacation, see some relatives. And if they could settle into a farmhouse with a swath of land, that would be a nice way to live.
For now, the exterior of Mr. Broadwater’s life has not changed much since being exonerated. He walks with a cane, in need of surgeries for hip and knee injuries from football games played in prison. His physical limitations have made it hard to find a steady job. He cleans out houses, tows debris with his truck, and looks for discarded appliances to sell, recently scoring a refrigerator left on the side of the road.
“I’m just grateful, man, that I have the normalcy now of being a decent person to people’s eyes,” he said.
The last few weeks have been thrilling, he said. But it has been strange to receive so much public support. The villain in someone else’s story, it is not lost on him that he was, for most of his life, the only champion of his own.
Sheelagh McNeill and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.