- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

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

But yesterday, one judge’s decision gave her what she had always wanted: justice.

William Beebe, who sexually assaulted Mrs. Seccuro at a University of Virginia fraternity party more than two decades ago and later apologized for it as part of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, was sentenced for the crime yesterday.

Charlottesville Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire ordered a 10-year prison sentence with all but 18 months suspended. The suspended sentence is contingent upon Beebe performing 500 hours of community service related to issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse on college campuses.

Mrs. Seccuro said Judge Hogshire’s decision will allow her to move forward with her life.

“As Maya Angelou said, ‘I may be changed by what has happened to me, but I will not be diminished by it,’ ” she said after the hearing.

Beebe, 42, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty in November to one count of aggravated sexual battery for the attack.

He 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 deal after investigators uncovered information suggesting that Mrs. Seccuro was attacked by more than one person that night.

Mrs. Seccuro, 40, of Greenwich, Conn., was given a drink at the party that made her feel strange, and she later passed out, leaving her memory hazy. She said she vividly recalls being attacked by Beebe, but always had a vague impression that she had been assaulted by additional members of the fraternity.

Beebe has not given prosecutors any helpful information in the investigation.

In 2005, Beebe wrote Mrs. Seccuro a letter of apology as part of AA’s recovery program, whose 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.”

Mrs. Seccuro eventually called Charlottesville police to report what had happened. There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Virginia, and Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas.

“I’m not trying to excuse my behavior, but I was a different person then,” Beebe told the judge, describing how his life has changed since becoming sober. “I have a purpose, and that gives life meaning. I didn’t have that then.”

The judge clearly struggled with the decision.

“It’s a horrific thing that this woman’s been through,” Judge Hogshire said. “On the other side, we look at someone whose life has been one who’s been a leader in the recovery community.

“Is he remorseful? I think so.”

After the hearing ended, Mrs. Seccuro shared a long hug with her husband, Mike. Outside court, she called the sentence “very fair.”

“It is now time for me to heal and I look very much forward to this next phase of getting my life back,” she said. “It’s a different life, but a wonderful life. Twenty-two years after the event, I must continue with the responsibility of healing, as do all survivors of sexual assault.”

Mrs. Seccuro said she went public with her name and story, hoping to lead other sexual assault survivors to seek help. She started STARS — Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors — to raise money for rape victims and their families.

She said she reported the assault to university officials in 1984, but that a dean and the campus police treated her dismissively.

“To the University of Virginia, I say this: Your silence is deafening,” Mrs. Seccuro said outside court.

University spokesman Carol Wood’s only response was: “Liz Seccuro is a courageous woman who was determined to see this through, and today justice was served on her behalf.”

Mrs. Seccuro, who says she has forgiven Beebe, said his apology was not a substitute for punishment. The assault changed her life dramatically, she said, and she deserved to see her attacker brought to justice.

“To me, this was never about step nine,” she said. “Alcohol doesn’t rape people. People rape people.”

Matt Reed contributed to this report.

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