Syracuse, NY – A Syracuse man exonerated last fall after enduring 16 years in prison for the rape of Alice Sebold now faces another years-long battle to win damages for the wrongful conviction that ruined his life.
Anthony Broadwater, 61, had hoped a judge’s high-profile decision to throw out his 1982 conviction based on new evidence, along with the current district attorney’s insistence that he be paid, would spur the State to act.
But the state attorney general’s office has signaled its intention to treat Broadwater’s case like any other legal fight — a process that can easily take years.
“The AG process is woefully inadequate and disappointing,” said civil rights attorney Earl Ward, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP in New York. “Innocent people are confined, in some cases for decades, and when these people come out, they are broken and somehow damaged. The state should be saying, ‘How should we compensate these people for this heartbreaking event?’ »
Instead, the AG’s office appears to approach wrongful conviction lawsuits like any other civil matter, Ward said.
Ward joined the Broadwater case earlier this year after Syracuse-based attorneys David Hammond and Melissa Swartz convinced prosecutor William Fitzpatrick and Judge Gordon Cuffy that their client was wrongly convicted four decades ago.
RELATED: Alice Sebold case: How race and incompetence sentenced Anthony Broadwater to prison
Broadwater’s lawyers are seeking compensation of $50 million, an amount intended to begin negotiations. But his lawyers say the state has chosen, so far, to fight it out in court.
A cookie-cutter response filed in late April by Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Levy denied state responsibility and questioned whether Broadwater was truly innocent.
“The plaintiff cannot prove by clear and convincing evidence…that he did not commit any of the acts charged…(and) that he did not, by his own conduct, cause or bring about his condemnation,” the response reads. .
The AG’s office had no comment beyond its court filing.
Ward says such responses from the AG are typical. But he argued that they went against the intent of the state legislature when it passed a law that allows compensation to those wrongfully convicted of crimes.
“It wasn’t meant to be contradictory,” Ward said, suggesting the system was meant to take responsibility and jump to what amount of money would just be compensation.
Hammond noted that Broadwater, who is in failing health after years in prison, may not have much of a life to live once he finally receives his paycheck.
“You have a 61-year-old who is not getting any younger,” Hammond said.
Swartz said the state shouldn’t dispute whether Broadwater deserves compensation.
“This person was obviously wrongfully convicted, and now we have to deal with the money,” Swartz said. “What justice does he deserve? Now we have to fight for the money, and it’s frustrating.
Ward said there is still hope that the state will come to the bargaining table.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where the state is saying, ‘Let’s take this thing to the end,'” Ward said. “I hope AG’s office will review this case and the unique facts of this case.”
He noted that Fitzpatrick, the longtime prosecutor, has publicly asked Broadwater for payment for the wrongful conviction.
“I’m sure he’ll ask for compensation. I hope he does well,” Fitzpatrick told Syracuse.com in December.
In two recent wrongful conviction cases in central New York, the state took one to three years to pay compensation.
Daniel Gristwood, forced into a wrongful conviction for attempted murder, filed a lawsuit in 2011. He only received $7.5 million in 2014. He died four months later.
Roy Brown, wrongfully convicted of murder, filed a lawsuit in May 2007. A judge ruled he deserved compensation in October 2008 and he paid $2.7 million in December 2008.
So far, Broadwater’s life hasn’t changed much since his November 2021 exoneration, his lawyers said. He still lives in his inherited dilapidated house on the south side of Syracuse.
He received $160,000 raised through a GoFundMe campaign since his acquittal, his lawyers said.
Writer Douglass Dowty can be contacted at [email protected] or (315) 470-6070.