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Rape victim gets justice 23 years after the attack

March 18, 2007|Kristen Gelineau | Associated Press Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — One terrible night in 1984 shattered Liz Seccuro's life. One shocking apology in 2005 tore her life apart again.

On Thursday, more than two decades after she was sexually assaulted while a student at the University of Virginia, one judge's decision finally gave her what she'd longed for -- justice.

William Beebe, who assaulted Seccuro and later apologized as part of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The case was revived in 2005 when Seccuro received Beebe's letter of apology for the college attack and began exchanging e-mails with him.

Seccuro says that she has forgiven Beebe for assaulting her, but that an apology is not a substitute for punishment.

The attack changed her life dramatically -- but after the sentencing, she said she could move forward.

"As Maya Angelou said, 'I may be changed by what has happened to me, but I will not be diminished by it,' " she said.

In 1984, Seccuro was given a drink at a fraternity party that made her feel strange, and she later passed out, leaving her memory hazy. She said she vividly recalled being attacked by Beebe, and had a vague impression she'd been assaulted by other fraternity members.

Seccuro said that she reported the assault to university officials at the time but that a dean and the campus police treated her dismissively.

In 2005, the scars were reopened when she received a letter of apology from Beebe in an attempt to make amends for the assault as part of AA's recovery program. The program's ninth step calls on alcoholics to make amends to those they have harmed -- unless doing so would cause further injury.

In an exchange of e-mails that ensued, Beebe wrote: "I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did."

Seccuro, 40, of Greenwich, Conn., eventually called Charlottesville police to report what had happened. There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Virginia; Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas, where he lived.

Beebe originally was charged with rape and object sexual penetration and could have faced a sentence of life in prison if convicted. But in November, he entered into a plea agreement after investigators uncovered new information suggesting Seccuro was attacked by more than one person that night.

Beebe has yet to give prosecutors any helpful information in the investigation.

As part of his sentence, Beebe also will have to perform 500 hours of community service related to issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse on college campuses, or face an additional 8 1/2 year prison sentence that the judge suspended.

"I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, but I was a different person then," said Beebe, 42, describing how sobriety has changed him. "I have a purpose, and that gives life meaning. I didn't have that then."

After the sentencing, Seccuro accused the university of spinning "tale after hurtful tale of how you quote 'properly handled' this situation in 1984 and quote 'supported me' " then and now.

University of Virginia spokesman Carol Wood said only that Seccuro was "a courageous woman who was determined to see this through, and today justice was served on her behalf."

Several people testifying on Beebe's behalf Thursday said he was a kind and generous friend who often helped other recovering substance abuse addicts.

"Will didn't tell me what to do, he showed me," said William Daniel Griggs Jr. of Richmond, who credited Beebe with helping in his recovery. He also said that Beebe helped care for his sick son several years ago.

Prosecutor Claude Worrell described Beebe's decision to apologize as selfish, and said it traumatized Seccuro all over again. Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana responded that it was "sad and tragic" that Beebe's apology was depicted that way, and said Seccuro made a choice to respond to his letter.

Seccuro , visibly shaken, left the courtroom. Later, Worrell shot back, "As it relates to Mr. Beebe, Elizabeth Seccuro has never had a choice."

Seccuro went public with her name and story, hoping to inspire other sexual assault survivors to seek help. She launched STARS -- Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors -- to raise money for rape victims and their families.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward L. Hogshire clearly struggled with the sentence, saying that what Seccuro went through was horrific, but that Beebe went on to be a leader in the recovery community.

"Is he remorseful?" the judge asked. "I think so."

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