By Marie White
Sebold’s Apology Too Late
In 2021, Alice Sebold, the best-selling author of the memoir “Lucky” and the novel “The Lovely Bones,” issued an apology to Anthony J. Broadwater, a man she had wrongly accused of raping her in 1981 – 39 years after the fact.
Broadwater spent 16 years in prison due to Sebold’s misidentification. He was released in 1998, but was forced to register as a sex offender for another 23 years.
Sebold waited to apologize until a state court judge vacated Broadwater’s conviction in Syracuse, N.Y. She knew for months (possibly years) that he was innocent, but seems to have hoped the state would not release him for that would harm her career – a career built on her false allegation that he raped her.
Sebold’s feeble apology, posted on Medium (not face to face with her victim) expressed regret for having “unwittingly” played a part in “a system that sent an innocent man to jail.” She did not just play a part – she was the leading lady. She blamed the system, not herself – as if she had only a cameo in the injustice.
Sebold’s memoir “Lucky,” published in 1999, gives a vivid account of the assault she endured as an 18-year-old student at Syracuse University and the subsequent trauma. The book also details the trial and how she became convinced that Broadwater was her attacker.
Despite the blunders in the case, including a composite sketch of her attacker not resembling Broadwater and Sebold identifying a different man in a police lineup, unlucky Broadwater was convicted of first-degree rape and five other charges.
On the other hand, her book “Lucky,” launched Sebold’s career and paved the way for her breakout novel, “The Lovely Bones,” which centers on sexual assault. The latter sold millions of copies and was made into a feature film.
Broadwater always insisted on his innocence and was denied parole several times for refusing to acknowledge guilt. Broadwater took two polygraph tests, decades apart, with experts determining his account was truthful. It was Sebold’s fame that prevented his exoneration. The story was too famous to be unwound.
Over the years, Broadwater repeatedly tried to hire lawyers to prove his innocence. His efforts were unsuccessful until a planned film adaptation of “Lucky” raised new questions about the case.
Sebold was riding high. A film version of her book about her rape by Broadwater was going to be made.
However, Timothy Mucciante, working as the executive producer on the film, started doubting Sebold’s account after reading the memoir and the script. He was struck by how little evidence was presented at Broadwater’s trial. He was fired from the production after raising questions about Sebold’s story.
Mucciante hired a private investigator, Dan Myers, who became convinced Broadwater was falsely accused. Myers recommended Broadwater retain lawyer J. David Hammond, who, after reviewing the investigation, agreed there was a strong argument for setting the conviction aside.
The false case centered entirely on Sebold’s courtroom identifications of Broadwater and a now-discredited method of microscopic hair analysis.
Due to Mucciante’s efforts, Sebold had reason to know for some time that on that Broadwater was not her rapist, but did not want the movie to come to a halt.
She apparently did nothing to support righting the injustice until she had to – Broadwater went free.
A Hollow Echo
Sebold, a master of spin, verbalized sorrow for causing harm to Broadwater, but was quick to spin it back to herself, voicing anguish over the fact that her actual rapist will likely never be known.
Sebold’s concern about her rapist not being caught seems to overshadow her acknowledgment of the harm done to Broadwater. It was the system, not her. Her apology is words only, though I am sure she feels sorry for herself for losing her career. Her hoped-for film was canceled.
In December 2021, Steve Pigeon, a former Erie County Democratic Chairman, was charged with six counts tied to an alleged 2016 sexual assault of a girl under eleven. This case lacks DNA evidence, witnesses, and every pattern of a pedophile. Prosecutors alleged it was a once-in-a-lifetime violent rape of his nine-year-old niece – years before. The teen, a highly troubled girl with a mother known for false accusations, told the improbable story that Pigeon, on the only occasion he was ever alone with her – a meeting set up by the mother, violently raped her.
There was no alleged attempt to repeat the harm to the girl. Her story, as told to her family, defies the laws of physics and biology. She waited five years to disclose it and only did so when she faced scrutiny for misconduct. Finally, no one else ever said Pigeon did anything remotely like what the troubled girl claimed.
The case also featured disturbingly, a district attorney with a long, unhappy history with Pigeon. Pigeon blocked him from being district attorney for eight years. The case against Pigeon concluded with what appears to be a stunningly coercive plea bargain.
In the deal, Pigeon traded the possibility of life in prison for first-degree sexual assault and first-degree rape for an eight-month prison sentence and an admission of guilt to sexually molesting the girl.
Pigeon, 63, had a choice of going to trial, and if he lost, he would be sentenced to a maximum-security prison, where he would be a convicted child sex offender and consequently confined to a tiny cell in the SHU -for the rest of what would likely be a very short life.
The difference between life in prison in solitary confinement and eight months in county jail takes innocence or guilt out of the equation. It becomes a matter of survival.
Personally I suspect the teenage niece lied for personal reasons, possibly to gain family sympathy or avoid inquiry into her conduct with another adult family member, as certain family members suspect.
Sebold and Pigeon
New York State agreed to pay Broadwater $5.5 million after his exoneration. However, Sebold has not publicly offered financial compensation to Broadwater, while taxpayers pay the bill for Sebold’s mistake.
Meanwhile, Pigeon won’t have to spend 16 years in prison like Broadwater. But Pigeon will have to live with the dishonor of being a sex offender when he is not. The system has no means of adjusting these terrible consequences.
Broadwater cannot get his 40 years of suffering back.
And ironically, Seabold does not appear to have the imagination necessary to do anything to restore her shattered reputation. The movie was not made. Who would ever trust her judgment on anything again.
Unlike Sebold, who waited until others exonerated an innocent man, the teenage niece of Steve Pigeon, still has a chance to rectify the wrong she did in (I believe) falsely accusing her uncle, Steve Pigeon, who never harmed a hair on her head.
I think she will find that the sooner she admits her false witness, the better her life will be.