Anthony Broadwater, 61, broke down in tears this week when a judge cleared him of the rape which was the basis of Alice Sebold’s 1999 bestseller, Lucky.
The memoir launched Alice’s career and, three years later, she had a hit with novel The Lovely Bones — also about rape.
After he was cleared of rape, Mr Broadwater said: “I just hope and pray that maybe Ms Sebold will come forward and say, ‘Hey, I made a grave mistake’ and give me an apology. I sympathise with her, but she was wrong.”
Mr Broadwater was just 20 and had recently returned home after serving with the marines when he was accused of raping Ms Sebold in May 1981.
Sebold, 58, wrote in Lucky of being raped as a first-year student at Syracuse University, New York, in May 1981. She said she spotted a black man in the street months later that she was sure was her attacker.
“He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street,” wrote Sebold.
“‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?'”
She said she didn’t respond, adding: “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”
Sebold went to police, but she didn’t know the man’s name and an initial sweep of the area failed to find him. An officer suggested the man in the street must have been Broadwater, who had supposedly been seen in the area.
After Broadwater was arrested, 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”.
But on the witness stand, Sebold identified Broadwater as her rapist, and an expert said microscopic hair analysis had tied Broadwater to the crime – a method which is now discredited.
He was found guilty after Ms Sebold identified him in court — even though she had picked another man in a police line-up — and on the evidence of microscopic hair samples.
The hair analysis used is now seen as “junk science” by the US Department of Justice.
Mr Broadwater was released from jail in 1999 and was living a very squalid existence. He had remained on New York’s sex offender registry even after finishing his prison term in 1999, working as a trash hauler and handyman in the years after his release.
Last year, when the novel Lucky was being filmed for a Netflix movie, executive producer Tim Mucciante became suspicious when the script’s first draft differed so much from the book.
His doubts were not about Sebold’s assault, but about the trial “which didn’t hang together”, he told the New York Times.
He was later dropped from the project and decided to hire a private investigator, Dan Myers, to look at the case.
Mr Myers, who spent 20 years working for the Onondaga County sheriff’s office, also became convinced of Mr Broadwater’s innocence and recommended J David Hammond as his defence attorney.
Mr Hammond told CNN that he and a colleague listened to the transcript of the trial and found “serious legal issues”, prompting them to file a motion to have the conviction overturned.
At Onondaga County Supreme Court, the prosecution of Broadwater was ruled unjust.
District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, he was “not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry’.”
“That doesn’t cut it… This should never have happened,” he added.
Broadwater spent his life insisting he is innocent and tried five times to get the conviction overturned before Monday’s decision.
“I never, ever, ever thought I would see the day that I would be exonerated,” he said.
“When he spoke to me about the wrong that was done to me, I couldn’t help but cry.
“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.”
Earlier this week, Broadwater told how the conviction destroyed his job prospects and his relationships with family and friends.
“On my two hands, I can count the people that allowed me to grace their homes and dinners, and I don’t get past 10,” he told the New York Times.
“That’s very traumatic to me.”
Although he married a woman who believed in his innocence, Mr Broadwater said he decided against having children because he didn’t want his conviction to ruin their lives.
“We had a big argument sometimes about kids, and I told her I could never, ever allow kids to come into this world with a stigma on my back,” he said.