Anthony Broadwater’s wrongful rape conviction shows need for justice system reform

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Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of rape.

In May 1982, Anthony Broadwater was wrongfully convicted of the rape of Alice Sebold, then a freshman at Syracuse University. Anthony Broadwater was cleared of any wrongdoing in his earlier conviction 40 years later. While Broadwater spent 16 years in prison, Sebold became a best-selling author, selling over a million copies of her memoir “Lucky,” which chronicles her experience of sexual assault in Thornden Park.

Broadwater’s wrongful conviction is sadly not surprising given the racial disparities in the criminal justice system and the impact this has had on black people in America. While the black community represents approximately 15% of New York State’s population, nearly 50% of those imprisoned in New York City are black.

After being falsely accused and convicted of raping Sebold, Broadwater spent 16 years in prison and was registered as a sex offender until exonerated. The pain the justice system has inflicted on Broadwater’s life is considerable.

He never had children with his wife as he felt his conviction would have had a negative impact on the lives of his children. The effect this wrongful conviction has had on Broadwater’s life is immense, and it is far from the only one. Black people made up about 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Exemptions Registry in October 2016. Those are just the cases that have been overturned — wrongful convictions are likely far more common than we know.



The justice system bears the blame for Broadwater’s wrongful conviction. It failed on several fronts, through the use of outdated and inaccurate tactics.

In Broadwater’s case, prosecutors presented a hair microscopic analysis test as evidence. In 2015, the FBI admitted that microscopic hair analysis tests had major flaws, as they contain errors in at least 90% of the cases examined.

The conviction was also based on eyewitness accounts, which are historically inaccurate. On top of that, trauma – such as rape – can play a major role in misidentification, as high-stress situations can distract from the details so a person can simply focus on surviving. . Of course, it’s important to believe survivors or sexual assaults, but Sebold experienced something unfathomable that night, and justice was too quick to convict regardless of the situation she found herself in. found.

Not only did prosecutors rely on Sebold’s testimony, but they also had him identify Broadwater in a queue, which is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. When she identified the black man next to Broadwater, who she said in her memoir looked like Broadwater, prosecutors told her the two were friends who appeared in the lineup together to deceive her.

Now, 40 years after the conviction, Broadwater has received nothing but an apology and Sebold is endless. The justice system failed them both.

Broadwater was only exonerated after a filmmaker working on an adaptation of Sebold’s “Lucky” noticed discrepancies in the stories. These are the stories the justice system should have – or should have – considered hundreds of times, especially since Broadwater was repeatedly denied parole and had its appeal dismissed in 1984. The Justice System was negligent and failed to exercise due diligence, wrongfully imprisoning yet another black person as a result. It is inexcusable.

All of these outdated tactics combined with widespread racism in the justice systems have led to the unjust imprisonment of thousands of black people. It’s more than the failure of the Onondaga County court system or the failure of a case. It is the failure of a justice system that has not understood that it is built on white supremacy.

Nonetheless, the city of Syracuse has a role to play in improving the lives of falsely imprisoned black people, but it hasn’t done enough. After being stripped of his freedom at 21, spending 16 years in prison and then struggling to get a job and education opportunities because he had to register as a sex offender, Broadwater is now 61 and is in a “precarious financial and housing situation”. situation,” said Sheryl Depker-Barau, who set up a GoFundMe to support Broadwater after her exoneration.

Depker-Barau, a friend of the film producer who led Broadwater’s exoneration, has raised more than $157,500 through the GoFundMe as of January 14, 2022. It’s heartwarming to see people helping to right injustices, but c It is the government – whose flawed justice system is destroying the lives of Broadwater as well as the lives of many others – that should make reparations.

But New York State does not automatically award reparations to those it has harmed. Instead, people who were wrongfully convicted must file claims for damages and prove the wrong the government did to them.

It’s time to change the system and begin to repair the damage done to the lives of wrongfully convicted people, especially black people, that the United States has and continues to significantly harm. New York State should change the laws regarding compensation. This case should serve as a wake-up call for Syracuse and the rest of the nation.

Although it may seem impossible to change the justice system, there are steps you can take to help the system correct its wrongdoings and ensure that these same mistakes don’t happen again.

New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel proposed a set of three bills aimed at reversing and preventing wrongful convictions. You can lobby for the support and implementation of these bills.

Additionally, you can enlist your local and state officials to advocate for the re-examination of past cases where hair microscopy and other inaccurate tools have played a role in conviction.

You can also donate to funds like Depker-Barau’s, which support those who have been exonerated by helping them obtain housing, food and other necessities, and encourage your representatives to do the same.

Red Badge Films and Red Hawk Films are helping Broadwater by sharing his story in a documentary called “Unlucky”, however, to be unlucky, his false conviction should have been rare, an anomaly. But Broadwater shares a story with thousands of other black men who have been unfairly served by the justice system.

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