When Alice Sebold wrote of the violent rape she experienced and how she bumped into her alleged attacker on the street, her memoir launched a glittering literary career.
The man she accused in her book, Lucky, spent 16 years in prison for the crime after his conviction in 1982.
However, he has now been cleared after flaws in the case were exposed during production of a film based on Ms Sebold’s experiences.
The jailed man, Anthony Broadwater, had always maintained his innocence and was finally exonerated on Monday by a judge who conceded he should never have been convicted.
He sobbed with his head in his hands as his nearly 40-year-old conviction was overturned.
“I’ve been crying tears of joy and relief the last couple of days,” the 61-year-old said.
Ms Sebold (58), author of the best-seller The Lovely Bones, described in Lucky how months after she was raped as a first-year student at Syracuse University in May 1981, she spotted a black man in the street who she believed was her attacker.
“He was smiling as he approached. He recognised me. It was a stroll in the park to him. He had met an acquaintance on the street,” she wrote. “‘Hey, girl’, he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’”
She said she did not respond: “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”
However, she identified a different man as her attacker in a police line-up.
In Lucky, Ms Sebold writes that “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”.
She later identified Mr Broadwater to police and did so again at his trial, while an expert said microscopic hair analysis – a debunked pseudo-science – had tied him to the crime.
Lucky was in the process of being filmed when the executive producer of the adaptation became sceptical of Mr Broadwater’s guilt after the first draft of the script differed so much from the book’s account.
“I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” Tim Mucciante said.
He said he became convinced of Mr Broadwater’s innocence after hiring a private investigator.
Mr Broadwater, who has worked as a binman and a handyman since his release from jail, said the rape conviction blighted his job prospects and his relationships with friends and family.
“I just hope, maybe, Ms Sebold will come forward and say, ‘Hey, I made a grave mistake’, and give me an apology,” he told The New York Times. “I sympathise with her. But she was wrong.”
The Lovely Bones, Ms Sebold’s novel about the rape and murder of a teenage girl, won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for adult fiction in 2003 and was made into a film starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.
The fate of the film adaptation of Lucky was unclear in light of Mr Broadwater’s exoneration. A message seeking comment was left with its new executive producer, Jonathan Bronfman, of Toronto-based JoBro Productions.
Ms Sebold had no comment, a spokesman for Scribner, which published Lucky, told The New York Times. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)
Telegraph Media Group Limited