Netflix axes Alice Sebold biopic after man’s rape conviction is overturned

·3 min read
Alice Sebold in 2007 (Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock)
Alice Sebold in 2007 (Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock)

Netflix has scrapped plans to adapt Alice Sebold’s 1999 memoir Lucky, after the man she accused of raping her had his conviction overturned.

Anthony Broadwater spent 16 years in prison after being convicted in 1982 of raping Sebold when she was 18 years old. He was exonerated last week.

Netflix had been in the process of adapting Lucky, with You star Victoria Pedretti cast to play Sebold, but after Tim Mucciante signed on as executive producer, he noticed glaring discrepancies in the prosecutor’s case and “started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened”.

Mucciante was dropped from the project, but he hired Dan Myers as a private investigator to look into the evidence. Myers, who spent 20 years working for the Onondaga County sheriff’s office, also became convinced of Broadwater’s innocence and recommended J David Hammond as his defence attorney.

Victoria Pedretti has been cast to play Alice Sebold in new film (Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock)
Victoria Pedretti has been cast to play Alice Sebold in new film (Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock)

Hammond told CNN that he and his colleague, Melissa Swartz, listened to the transcript of the trial and found “serious legal issues”, prompting them to file a motion to have the conviction overturned.

According to Variety, the film adaptation has been dropped and Pedretti is no longer attached.

Lucky details how, as a teenage student, Sebold was raped and beaten inside a tunnel near her university campus.

Sebold wrote about seeing a Black man in the street several months after her attack, a man she became convinced he 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?’ I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”

Sebold went to the police but they failed to find her attacker in the initial search. An officer suggested that the man in the street must have been Broadwater, who was supposedly in that area at the time. In her memoir, she gives him the pseudonym Gregory Madison.

While the police arrested Broadwater, Sebold failed to identify him in a police lineup. She picked up 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”.

Broadwater, who was 20 years old at the time, had returned home from a stint in the Marines to spend time with his ill father.

Anthony Broadwater sobbed as he heard his rape conviction had been overturned (AP)
Anthony Broadwater sobbed as he heard his rape conviction had been overturned (AP)

Despite Sebold failing to identify him in a police lineup, Broadwater was sent to trial, where Sebold identified him as her rapist on the witness stand. At the time of Broadwater’s arrest and subsequent prosecution, his father’s health worsened. He died shortly after Broadwater was sent to prison.

His conviction was largely based on Sebold’s identification of him as her attacker and on microscopic hair analysis by an expert linking him to the crime. That type of analysis has since been deemed junk science by the US Department of Justice.

Broadwater had remained on New York’s sex offender registry after finishing his prison term in 1999. He worked as a trash hauler and handyman in the years after his release. The conviction eclipsed his job prospects and his relationships with family and friends.

“I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it,” the Onondaga county district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, told him. “This should never have happened.”

A spokesperson for publisher Scribner declined to comment to Variety on the conviction’s overturning.

“Neither Alice Sebold nor Scribner has any comment. Scribner has no plans to update the text of Lucky at this time,” they said.

Sebold later wrote another book about rape, the bestselling novel The Lovely Bones.

The Independent has contacted Sebold’s representatives for comment.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.

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