A man who sexually assaulted a University of Virginia student in 1984 and apologized to her two decades later as part of the Alcoholics Anonymous program was sentenced to 18 months in prison Thursday.
William Beebe, 42, pleaded guilty in November to one count of aggravated sexual battery for his attack on Liz Seccuro.
Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire ordered a 10-year prison sentence with all but 18 months suspended, as long as Beebe performs 500 hours of community service related to issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse on college campuses. Prosecutors had recommended two years.
"I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, but I was a different person then," Beebe said. "I have a purpose, and that gives life meaning. I didn't have that then."
The case was revived in 2005 after Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter of apology 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., was given a drink at a 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 she'd been assaulted by additional members of the fraternity.
Beebe, of Las Vegas, 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 new information suggesting Seccuro was attacked by more than one person that night.
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.
Seccuro said that she reported the assault to university officials in 1984 but that a dean and the campus police treated her dismissively.
Seccuro, who says she has forgiven Beebe for assaulting her, said an apology is not a substitute for punishment. The attack changed her life dramatically, she said, and she deserves to finally see justice served.
Several people testifying on Beebe's behalf Thursday said he is 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.
Seccuro sat grimly through the testimony of Beebe's supporters. At one point she put a hand on the shoulder of her visibly agitated husband.
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 Securro made a choice to respond to his letter.
Securro, 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 lead other sexual assault survivors to seek help. She launched STARS — Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors — to raise money for rape victims and their families.
Hogshire clearly struggled with the sentence, saying 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."
© 2007 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.