A rape conviction at the centre of an award-winning memoir by Alice Sebold has been overturned amid concerns the wrong person was sent to jail in 1982.

Anthony Broadwater, who spent 16 years in prison, sobbed as he was cleared by a judge of raping Sebold when she was a student – an assault she wrote about in her 1999 memoir Lucky.

The process of overturning the conviction came after a producer who was making the book into a film began questioning why the first draft of the script differed so much from the original writing.

Tim Mucciante, who has a production company called Red Badge Films, had signed on as executive producer of the adaptation but became sceptical of Broadwater’s guilt.

“I started poking around and trying to figure out what really happened here,” he said.

He dropped out of the project earlier this year and hired a private investigator.

The best-selling author, now 58, wrote in Lucky she was raped as a first-year student at Syracuse in May 1981 and then spotted a black man on the street months later that she was sure was her attacker.

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“He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street,” wrote Sebold.

“‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?'”

She said she didn’t respond: “I looked directly at him. Knew his face had been the face over me in the tunnel.”

Sebold, who is also the author of The Lovely Bones about the rape and murder of a teenage girl, went to the police, but she did not know the man’s name, however, an officer suggested it must have been Broadwater.

After he was arrested, Sebold failed to identify him in a police line-up.

Sebold wrote in Lucky that when she was informed that she’d picked someone other than the man she’d previously identified as her rapist, she said the two men looked “almost identical.”

Regardless, Broadwater was tried and convicted in 1982.

However, the trial was only based on Sebold identifying him on the stand and a piece of hair analysis that has now been deemed “junk science” by the US Department of Justice.

“Sprinkle some junk science onto a faulty identification, and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” said Broadwater’s attorney, David Hammond.

Broadwater was released from jail in 1999 but he said the rape conviction had blighted his job prospects ad even prevented him from having children.

Despite marrying a woman who believed in his innocence, Broadwater said: “We had a big argument sometimes about kids, and I told her I could never, ever allow kids to come into this world with a stigma on my back.”

District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told the court: “I’m not going to sully this proceeding by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it.

“This should never have happened.”