Inside Dateline: On the Duke rape allegations

June 23, 2006 |   

Damage everywhere in this rape case (Edie Magnus, Dateline correspondent)

I find the Duke Lacrosse team story upsetting no matter how it turns out.  To hear Dan Abrams tell it – and he has now seen more than any other reporter on the story – there may not be enough evidence that the young black woman was raped by three white players on the team to warrant going to trial. 

Maybe this is because the young woman at the center of this is not being truthful.  Maybe she IS being being truthful, but she was so traumatized and confused in the early going that she told different things to different people. 

Either way there is damage every way you look:  If she’s not credible, then the three defendants lives are nevertheless ruined, maybe forever.  If she does believe she was raped, how can she ever get up the courage to testify knowing that the defense will skewer her with her own conflicting accounts?

I was following this story long before I was assigned to it.  With each new piece of news, it hangs heavier on my heart.  Like everybody else, I wonder how it will turn out.

Dateline's report on the Duke lacrosse rape allegations airs Dateline Saturday, 8 p.m.

Below are links to recent reports about the case:


21 years ago, Liz Seccuro, a 17-year-old college student at the University of Virgina, claims she was brutally raped and the alleged attacker went free. However, in 2005 she received a letter in the mail that finally gave her the opportunity to fight back. Edie Magnus previews "The Letter," which airs Friday on Dateline NBC.

What would you do? (Edie Magnus, Dateline correspondent)

I am always fascinated with people who bravely make an unpopular choice based on principle.  Given the response she’s gotten from the world at large even before having her story appear on Dateline, I imagine that may prove to be an unpopular one.  But she has her reasons, which she puts forth powerfully and persuasively in our forthcoming report.  Liz is — by virtue of what has happened to her in her life – a crusader.  And she’s one of the most effective and interesting people we’ve had the pleasure to meet.  I am certain of only one thing with this story:  one way or the other, you will likely have an opinion about her.  She is a woman about whom almost no one can remain neutral.

We first met Liz in January.  And as we were setting up the cameras for what turned out to be a near 5 hour interview, I was telling Liz and her husband about a producer friend of mine who was devastated to discover that a story she’d worked hard on (like every other one I’m sure) was being scheduled against formidable competition — the Super Bowl.  Liz and Michael later huddled in a corner and wondered whether her story — which was very hard for her to come forward to tell — would meet the same fate.  They knew we hoped to air it this spring; the Seccuros were worried about airing alongside the Academy Awards.

Fortunately that did not happen – but as our May airdate approached Liz was once again on edge.  How would she “appear,” she wanted to know.  How were we portraying her?  Were people going to like her – or think she was nuts?  Even if I could have answered her (we don’t show our pieces to subjects prior to broadcast) -- I had no answers anyway.  This is one of those interesting moments when whatever you as a viewer bring to it will determine what you think of her.  For an hour on prime time television we let her make her case – and she sure makes it well.  Liz made a choice to seek justice for an act allegedly committed against her long ago.  She could have let it go, but she didn’t. Hopefully, as you watch, you’ll consider the question we pose at the very beginning of the story:  What Would You Do? 

We were hoping to hear more from the man Liz accuses of harming her:  William Beebe. But as he is headed for trial in the fall, he’s not talking.  In his e-mails he describes what seems like quite a tortured life since that night with Liz,  a life we would have loved to know more about for this report. We’re going to continue trying to talk to him as the case makes its way through the courts.

One final note that marks a first in my professional life.  We have featured snippets from several emails that Beebe sent to Liz.  We asked several male producers here at Dateline to read them,  but as Beebe is charged with rape, they were naturally a bit reluctant to put their voice to his words.  As it turns out, my husband has a very fine “broadcast” voice, and graciously consented to help us out.  Needless to say, we’ve never worked together (although he is in TV-- a documentary producer)  until now.    

May 18, 2006 |

P.S.:  I am adding a postscript because Liz — ever vigilant and with good reason— read this blog when it came out and promptly corrected me on one point:  It seems she has indeed gotten "mounds" of mail and e-mails that were positive about her decision — and she was disappointed I would intimate otherwise.  So there it is.  More reason to watch!

"The Letter" airs Dateline Friday, 8 p.m.

May |

Will Jennifer be found? (Edie Magnus, Dateline correspondent)

Meeting Joyce and Drew Kesse is yet another reminder for all of us about how hard— if necessary— it is to experience other people’s pain up close and personal. Their daughter Jennifer has vanished—yet somehow in the midst of their grief and pain, they have enough energy to go out every single day and ask the world for help.  To say that I admire them is the understatement of the year.  I literally cannot imagine the path they have to walk.

The story is also a lesson in the promise and the limits of technology.  Yes, there are crucial photos from a security camera serendipitously placed so as to capture Jennifer’s car being dumped in a parking lot.   But as you’ll see, those pictures don’t show enough to actually break the case open.  There’s a possible witness.  They hope by showing his picture that he (or she, they can’t really tell) will come forward. It’s been 100 days.  It hasn’t happened.

And yet the Kesses bear up and move on—more TV appearances, more flyers, more hope and determination in the face of the very long odds of Jennifer’s survival.  Do you know, they found time to e-mail us to thank us for being with them?  They remembered not just our names (producer Bob Gilmartin and me) but also the names of our crew. With what they’re going through? 

If you watch—and think you know something—there’s a tipline where you can leave an anonymous tip called crimeline (800)- 432-tips.  And there’s a Web site you can link to:

As with all of these heartbreaking stories, one cannot but wish for a happy ending here.