Last week, 61-year-old Anthony Broadwater was exonerated for a 1981 rape which sent him to prison for 16 years. Broadwater, who is black, got married after his release in 1998 and found odd jobs to make ends meet but he was always hampered by his designation as a sex offender. Meanwhile, Alice Sebold, who is white, wrote a best-selling book about the rape titled “Lucky” and became a renowned author. After the exoneration, Broadwater said he hoped to get an apology from Sebold.
“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,” Mr. Broadwater said.
“I sympathize with her,” he said. “But she was wrong.”
Yesterday, he got his wish. Sebold published an open letter apologizing to Broadwater:
First, I want to say that I am truly sorry to Anthony Broadwater and I deeply regret what you have been through.
I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you, and I know that no apology can change what happened to you and never will. Of the many things I wish for you, I hope most of all that you and your family will be granted the time and privacy to heal.
40 years ago, as a traumatized 18-year-old rape victim, I chose to put my faith in the American legal system. My goal in 1982 was justice — not to perpetuate injustice. And certainly not to forever, and irreparably, alter a young man’s life by the very crime that had altered mine…
Today, American society is starting to acknowledge and address the systemic issues in our judicial system that too often means that justice for some comes at the expense of others. Unfortunately, this was not a debate, or a conversation, or even a whisper when I reported my rape in 1981.
There’s more but that’s the gist. Sebold is sorry for what happened but she also seems to be blaming it, at least partly, on the system. Still, that seems to have been enough for Broadwater:
Broadwater said it took awhile for the apology to sink in. But after thinking it over and talking to his wife, its emotional weight overcame him.
“He cried,” said Hammond, one of his lawyers. “His wife cried, too.”
“It was a big relief,” Broadwater said. “It must have taken a lot of courage to come to terms and make that apology.”
Ultimately, how he feels about it is all that matters, but I have to say the details of the case make it seem to me that Sebold is getting off pretty easy here. She wasn’t just a bystander to actions taken by the system, she was a key driver of what happened:
The attack took place when Ms. Sebold was a freshman at Syracuse University. She writes in her memoir, which was published in 1999, about how she told campus security about the attack right away and went to the police.
After evidence was collected from a rape kit, she described her assailant’s features to the police, but the resulting composite sketch didn’t resemble him, she wrote.
Mr. Broadwater was arrested five months later, after Ms. Sebold passed him on the street and contacted the police, saying she may have seen her attacker.
In her best-selling book, she described knowing instantly that the man who spoke to her on the street five months later 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,” she wrote (h/t Los Angeles Times). “‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”
She recalled instantly knowing the man was her attacker. “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel,” she wrote.
Police arranged a lineup but Sebold selected a different man as her attacker. In the book she wrote that Broadwater and the man right next to him looked very similar and moments after identifying the other man she changed her mind. She even wrote that she was concerned her mistake might help Broadwater’s case:
Her narrative went on to express concern for how her uncertainty might bolster Broadwater’s defense: “A panicked white girl saw a black man on the street. He spoke familiarly to her and in her mind she connected this to her rape. She was accusing the wrong man.”
As it turns out that’s probably exactly what happened. She cast blame on an innocent man and ruined his life. Even the exoneration which took place last week only happened because a producer who was planning to make her book into a film decided her account of the trial didn’t hold up. He dropped out of the project and then hired a private investigator to look into it. The investigator, Dan Meyers, was a retired detective became convinced Broadwater was innocent. He took his information to a local lawyer who wound up being hired by Broadwater on the recommendation of another attorney who knew nothing about the new information.
So, again, Sebold wasn’t just a bystander here. Her mistake was the one of only two pieces of evidence in the trial. Given that she wound up making a significant sum of money off the story of that error, does she owe something more than an apology to Anthony Broadwater? I’m not an attorney so I don’t know if he would have a realistic case even if he chose to sue her (which he doesn’t sound inclined to do). But if she’s really genuinely sorry, maybe she should offer him a share of what she earned on the book.