By all objective standards, Dave Hammond’s is the ultimate criminal-defense attorney’s success story. Working hand in hand with Melissa Swartz, and both lawyers not even forty, he managed to get Anthony Broadwater exonerated of his 1982 conviction for the rape of Alice Sebold, the celebrated author of The Lovely Bones. It was an extraordinary accomplishment. They proved that Sebold, a college freshman at the time of her attack, had identified the wrong man in court.
On the day I met with Hammond earlier this year, in downtown Syracuse, he was in his 12th-floor office, reviewing with pride the $50 million claim for unjust imprisonment that he had just filed against the state of New York. If the suit is successful, it will get Broadwater “reasonable and fair damages” for the 16 and a half years he was wrongfully incarcerated in maximum-security prisons, the 8 years that his life was constricted by the tight bands of his parole, and the 22 years he lived branded as a Level 2 sex offender.
It’s potentially a storybook resolution of a grim miscarriage of justice that could very well make Broadwater, now a weary and bent 61-year-old who leans heavily on a cane just to get about, a very rich man. And it would also be a windfall for Hammond as well as the others on the burgeoning legal team, who, following the standard practice, stand to share in one-third of the anticipated bonanza.
So just why is Hammond so disconsolate? Why does he say, “Working with Anthony has been the greatest blessing in my professional life. Only I can’t help sometimes feeling that all the joy has been overshadowed by everything else”?
What is that “everything else”?
Here’s the thing: Hammond won’t say. And neither will Swartz. She canceled an interview at pretty much the last minute because she didn’t want to be asked. (Days later, however, she did agree to talk, but only if I’d stick to carefully specified areas.) And neither will the New York lawyers who have now joined the team, nor the filmmakers who’d been working on a documentary about the case, go into what is spooking everyone who has become enmeshed in this saga.
It’s only after I’ve granted an individual close to the events a protective cloak of anonymity that I can wheedle out even an oblique explanation for what has created such high anxiety: “There’s nothing more dangerous than a disbarred lawyer acting pro se. He knows how the system works, and he’s not governed by ethical rules.” And “pro se” means he won’t need to pay legal bills; he can file his own motions.
Therefore it’s not hard to guess what is giving them the willies. It’s the fear that Timothy Mucciante, a disbarred lawyer and convicted con man—and the would-be movie producer who jump-started Broadwater’s vindication—will upset all their plans.
“I’m in the Way, and They Don’t Like It”
The irony is that, without Mucciante, Anthony Broadwater would never have been exonerated. It was Mucciante who had walked away from his job as executive producer of a now defunct feature film based on Sebold’s Lucky after reading the memoir and thinking that “the case for the rapist’s conviction just didn’t smell right.”
At least, that’s one version of the events.
It’s potentially a storybook resolution of a grim miscarriage of justice that could very well make Broadwater, now a weary and bent 61-year-old who leans heavily on a cane just to get about, a very rich man.
The New York Times, however, interviewed three people who worked on the film who said he never raised questions to them about the memoir, and, in fact, was terminated because he failed to provide the financing he’d promised for the $5 million production.
What is not disputed, however, is that on June 29, 2021, Mucciante, after searching the Web for a lawyer in Syracuse, sent a blind e-mail to Hammond, saying, “We need an investigation into a criminal case that occurred in 1980-1981 in Syracuse.”
It was this first small stone, so haphazardly tossed, that would ripple over the ensuing eight months, gaining momentum until it built into a powerfully righteous wave, making Mucciante the instigator of both Broadwater’s vindication and his $50 million claim against the state of New York.
And yet, what is also not disputed is that Mucciante’s complicated life has swirled through recurrent cycles of criminal deceits. He has spent more than a decade in federal prisons for his audacious schemes. (One “picaresque”—the federal-court judge’s adjective—scam involved the improbable barter of two million British condoms plus two million latex gloves for Russian chickens that would then be sold to Saudi Arabia.)
The twists and turns of his many adventures have left him disbarred, liable for more than $1 million in fines and restitutions, and branded him with a polygamy conviction as well as several bankruptcy judgments. In fact, although Mucciante has confided to me that he’s been “blessed to have independent means,” in 2019 an apparently exasperated federal-bankruptcy-court judge called him a “serial” filer (there were 12 previous bankruptcy filings) and “banned” him from filing new cases for two years.
So, is the cycle of dodgy, questionable behavior repeating itself in Syracuse? Are Mucciante’s prior unethical compulsions—as admitted to in a court-sentencing filing—kicking in to taint his moment of accomplishment and giving others concerns he could upend the search for restitution? Like so much in this tale, the answer depends on whom one is talking to.
Item one: There’s the documentary that Mucciante swiftly moved in to produce last summer, after he realized the motion to vacate Broadwater’s conviction would have its day in court. He hired Red Hawk Films, a team of accomplished filmmakers, and over the next several months they shot more than 20 hours of film, including lengthy interviews with Broadwater and his wife, Liz. Only now the production has ground to a halt. The ostensible reason: unpaid bills by Mucciante.
Mucciante concedes to me that he has “held up payments of between $94 and $97,000” to the filmmakers. He insists, however, that it would be “inaccurate” to attribute his actions to a lack of funds.
Rather, he says, he reviewed the invoices and discovered discrepancies. In addition, he was “upset” that “we were a bunch of old white guys” and the production staff “didn’t address the diversity that I had insisted on.”
The principals in Red Hawk Films would only say, “We will put our reputation up against his any day. And we wish him luck in his endeavors in figuring out how to do this on his own. As upsetting as it is, we are not proceeding with the film.”
Item two: Mucciante’s relationship with Anthony Broadwater. Just before filming started, Mucciante gave Broadwater a release to sign. The document, according to those who have read it, was sweeping. Broadwater relinquished all dramatic and literary rights to his story—and received no compensation or promise of future compensation in return.
A spokesman for Mucciante explained this to me in an e-mail: “Tim cannot guarantee a payment for a film that hasn’t been made and most documentary filmmakers would not compensate a subject for participating in the story.”
Yet Mucciante, later talking to me directly, conceded that “the release had been hastily written. It was too broad.” He added, “Of course Anthony can make any other deals he wants.”
Nevertheless, Mucciante still hoped the “other deals” would involve him. On January 5, he traveled to Syracuse to take Broadwater to lunch at the CopperTop Tavern. As he first explained the lunch to me, it was prompted by benevolence.
“Anthony needed money to buy a house,” and Mucciante thought he could “help him out” by buying a 1968 Buick Wildcat that Broadwater had restored. In the course of their conversation, he also says, he raised “the possibility of doing a feature film and a book with Anthony.”
It wasn’t long after Mucciante returned home to Michigan that his attorney received an e-mail from Steven Beer, a New York entertainment lawyer whom Hammond and Swartz had recruited to join Broadwater’s legal team.
“It was a very bizarre e-mail,” Mucciante rages to me. “It was most unprofessional. Beer comes on like I’m the devil. He doesn’t want me to have any direct communication with Anthony. He tells my lawyer I’m not to discuss business with Anthony.”
In an e-mail to me, Beer offered a more restrained version: “Through his counsel, we respectfully asked Tim to refrain from contacting Anthony.” And the lawyer pointedly added: “He has not honored this request.”
Item three: Mucciante’s relationship with Hammond and Swartz. Mucciante says that he personally financed the nonprofit fund Righting Past Wrongs, which was the vehicle for paying the initial $70,400 they had billed for the work leading to the filing of the motion to vacate Broadwater’s conviction.
“All the money came from my account. And I have the wire transfers to prove it. I’m in the way, and they don’t like it.”
And what do Hammond and Swartz say? I have spoken with them for hours about many aspects of the case. But there is one name they adamantly refuse to discuss: Timothy Mucciante.
Mucciante glumly acknowledges to me how his actions have become tarnished, mired in “regrets.”
“Some days I feel good, because I know I did the right thing. I helped Anthony get justice,” he says plaintively. “Other days I ask myself, ‘Why did I do this? Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut? Is it really worth all this pain?’”
And why has Mucciante suffered such a woeful reversal of fortune? Why, as he tells it, has he been shoved out of the drama he’d instigated? Because, he tells me, someone has it in for him.
“Who?,” I ask.
“Alice!” he explodes. “Alice Sebold.
“She hates me,” Mucciante goes on acidly. “I’ve heard this from people who know. And now she wants to take my rights away.”
It seems, according to the convincingly authoritative story Mucciante spins for me, Sebold has offered Broadwater “$500,000 and percentages” to work on a book with her and a subsequent film. It’s a collaboration that immediately strikes me as inspired: their lives have become so entangled, why not work out their shared victimizations on the page? It’s a story I’d eagerly read.
Only it doesn’t take much poking around to discover that, despite Mucciante’s aggrieved certainty, it’s completely false. It’s a collaboration that, for now at least, exists only in Mucciante’s besieged imagination.
It’s the fear that Timothy Mucciante, a disbarred lawyer and convicted con man—and the would-be movie producer who jump-started Broadwater’s vindication—will upset all their plans.
According to Hammond, Broadwater has never been contacted directly by Sebold, or her representatives. And the only time that anyone from Sebold’s camp reached out to him was to share the carefully worded apology to Broadwater she would post on the Internet.
And as Beer wrote in an e-mail, there was “no truth whatsoever” to the rumor that Broadwater is working on a book with Sebold. In fact, although he has received film and book inquiries from other sources, “Anthony is presently focused on his pending litigation matters and his reclaiming his personal and family lifestyle.”
When I speak with Broadwater, he does indeed have dreams of a future for his wife, Liz, and himself. He talks about buying “a brick house, maybe with a pond, on a nice piece of land.” He’s been in Syracuse for years now, and sometimes, he tells me, he thinks of getting away. “Maybe go down South.” But other times, he quickly adds, “I don’t mind if I stay here forever. Just so it’s someplace safe and quiet for Liz and me.” He says he’s happy making his barbecued ribs and working on his cars. He just doesn’t “want to be hassled by anyone.”
But there’s one thing, according to the blunt assessment of someone who knows him well, that Broadwater would never do: “Anthony would be revolted by the prospect of working with Alice Sebold.”
The Author of Her Own Demise?
And what about Alice Sebold? Is she busily working on her own book about the recent events that have upended her previous understanding of her life? When Scribner, her publisher, removed Lucky from the shelves, after Broadwater’s exoneration emphatically revealed the flaws in the memoir, a statement was issued saying, “Sebold and Scribner [will] together consider how the work might be revised.”
Only it’s difficult for an outsider to determine what, if anything, Sebold is writing. She broke off from Henry Dunow, the agent who had shepherded her career through three best-sellers, including the 10-million-copy-selling Lovely Bones, which was also made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Saoirse Ronan. Sebold, according to someone familiar with the events, simply called up one day and told Dunow, who had helped shape all her books, that she feared he “had lost confidence in her writing.” And that, to Dunow’s bewilderment, was their last conversation.
Sebold found representation with Julie Barer, a partner at The Book Group, an agency that represents a distinguished collection of writers whose talent has earned them not just critical acclaim but also spots on best-seller lists. Only shortly after Lucky was pulled by its publisher, Sebold’s name also disappeared from the list of brand-name authors on the Book Group’s Web site. Was this an accident? A deliberate bit of editing? Neither Barer nor Sebold responded to e-mails seeking comment.
“Anthony would be revolted by the prospect of working with Alice Sebold.”
But I wonder if Sebold can ignore all the fury that rages against her on the Internet. Scroll down the recent readers’ comments on Lucky’s Amazon page: It’s a hate-fest. Reader after reader bristles with indignation because the memoir that had once left them so moved, that had formerly struck such an emphatic chord, is, as they write time after aggrieved time, “a lie.”
Yet is it really all that simple? Despite her taking the stand at Broadwater’s trial and, after failing to identify him in the earlier lineup, confidently telling the judge that Anthony Broadwater was the man who had raped her, my heart can’t help but fly out to her with compassion.
One only has to read the still-sealed grand-jury testimony (which AIR MAIL viewed after the transcript was recently released to participants in the case) to get a poignant sense of the ordeal she’d suffered as a teenage college freshman. There she is, 19 years old, telling a deeply personal story to a room full of strangers. And all the while her account builds with an eerie cadence; her words haunted and, in time, haunting:
“I started to walk faster and then one person started running and he came up and put his hand around my mouth and my arm.... I screamed and he knocked me down on the ground and we started fighting and every time I screamed he would either hit me or hit my head against the stone … and I almost got away but he pulled me back down… he just proceeded to drag me by my arms and my hair into the tunnel.”
After the brutal shock of reading the teenage Sebold’s raw first-person telling of what she’d endured, I found myself re-reading with a newly found understanding an e-mail I had received from Tobias Wolff. Wolff, a writer whose short stories and memoirs have a great, affecting power, had taught Sebold when she was an undergraduate at Syracuse. He wrote, in part, “It has been the cruelest of ironies that the trauma she suffered … should now return in another form. She must suffer again, this time from the abiding knowledge that any small measure of justice she thought she had received by the apprehension and conviction of her assailant, was in fact another injustice – the years-long humiliation and imprisonment of an innocent man…. My heart goes out to her, and to Anthony Broadwater.”
A New Suspect?
Yet one crucial question still hovers: Who, then, raped Alice Sebold?
When William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga district attorney, appeared last November to support the motion to vacate Broadwater’s conviction, he offered up a revelation that took many in the court by surprise.
“I asked the investigative staff,” he began, “to review what had happened in Thornden Park a year before and a year hence from the rape of Miss Sebold. And there were four instances [of rape] … over less than an 18 month period, which frankly seems high to me.”
But there was one particular case that held his attention like a magnet. It occurred in May 1982, a time when Anthony Broadwater was locked behind the high walls of a maximum-security prison.
“They had a very, very identifiable and strong suspect in the case,” the district attorney continued. “In fact, the individual showed up to take a lie detector test.” But after being questioned by the Syracuse cops for nearly an hour, the suspect decided, according to the district attorney, “‘Hey, I have had enough of this’ and he took off.”
Fitzpatrick, though, recently tracked the suspect down. At the time, he was living in Texas, and he had no record of previous convictions. A further complication: the rape kit used in the Sebold investigation had been destroyed; DNA tests would be impossible. There was nothing more the district attorney could do, he decided, except share his frustrations with the court “that nobody might have put two and two together back then.”
Only now this suspect has, according to several reports, returned to Syracuse. And despite all the evidentiary obstacles, he is in the crosshairs of a new investigation.
And so, on an uncommonly warm afternoon in Syracuse, I find myself drawn to Thornden Park. Trudging through a recently snow-covered playing field that has been transformed into a thick, muddy ooze, I make my way to the park’s sloping, grassy amphitheater. On the stage, there’s a young girl camping it up with a large, whitish dog, chasing him about for merry sport on a sunny day. She can’t be more than 20, I guess; more or less Alice Sebold’s age when she passed through the amphitheater around midnight on that fateful night more than 40 years ago as she made her way in the darkness back to her dorm.
Behind the stage, the entranceway, shielded by two jutting walls of weathered, ornamental stone, is the tunnel into which Alice Sebold was dragged. A milk-chocolate-brown door, secured by a tin-plated lock, now prohibits entry into the tunnel.
I stare with fascination at the door. I don’t really believe that after all the years it can offer some sort of clue, but I can’t help looking. In the end, I’m only left wondering if it’s been erected to keep people out or to keep all the demons inside.
And if Alice Sebold ever resolutely hoped that her talent would allow her to write her way out of her entrapment, well, fate has now had the last sour laugh. With the knowledge that her testimony helped send an innocent man to prison, she’s been pulled back into the cave, perhaps now trapped forever behind its locked door.
I also can’t help but feel that although Anthony Broadwater was somewhere else at the witching hour when Alice Sebold’s life was ravaged decades ago, he too had been dragged into that cave. He too will forever be its prisoner. Exoneration, a small fortune in compensation dollars—I still don’t see how he can ever escape the malicious, seething power of the forces that pulled his life out of the orbit of what it might have been.
And then, at last, I turn and leave. What else can I do but flee from the scene of the crime? Away from the lawyers, Mucciante, the filmmakers, the charges, and the countercharges. It’s too late for their efforts, however hope-fostered, however good their intentions, to change anything fundamentally. This will always be a tragedy. There will never be a happy ending.
Howard Blum is the author of several books, including Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. His next book, The Spy Who Knew Too Much: An Ex-CIA Officer’s Quest Through a Legacy of Betrayal, will be published by HarperCollins in June