Guest: Liz Seccuro
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, a college student says she‘s raped at a fraternity party. No one is charged, until she get an apologetic letter from the alleged rapist more than 20 years later. Now he‘s heading to trial.
The program about justice starts now.
Hi everyone. First up on the docket this Memorial Day, a rape case that took prosecutors decades to bring to trial. Twenty-one years after Liz Seccuro says the crime was committed, a letter arrived at her house. It was from a man looking for a second chance asking for forgiveness, seeking amends for what he did over two decades ago. We‘ll talk with her later in the hour, but first, here‘s “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember lying there and saying, I‘m going to die here. And my mom and dad aren‘t going to know what happened to me.
EDIE MAGNUS, “DATELINE NBC” (voice-over): Liz Seccuro has struggled hard to heal. Twenty-one years ago, she says a stranger suddenly and violently attacked her. And now, just as suddenly, he‘s back. Last September, a letter arrived at her home out of the blue. In October 1984, I harmed you, it read. I stand prepared to begin to set right the wrong I‘ve done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone grows up with the idea of oh there‘s a monster in the closet, but my monster has a name and a face and now he‘s out of the closet.
MAGNUS: Liz, 39, says the woman you see today is very different from the girl she once was, a child who grew up feeling happy and safe. Graduating first in her class in 1984, Liz weighed several college scholarship offers. She selected the prestigious University of Virginia. In September 1984, 17-year-old Liz and her best friend Meghan, who would be attending Trinity University in Washington, D.C., took the big car trip south together, along with both sets of parents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were talking about the future, and how just it was going to be really exciting, and you know, the people we were going to meet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went to an all girls‘ high school, so I guess my first experience with the opposite sex was in college. I had never even sat in a classroom with a boy before.
MAGNUS (on camera): Is it safe to say then that when you went to college, you were somewhat inexperienced.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inexperienced, yes. Was I a virgin when I came to UVA? Absolutely.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Like many schools, the social life at UVA revolved around its many fraternities and sororities and that fall rush was in full swing. Just four weeks after arriving on campus, a dorm friend looking to make a good impression at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, leaned on Liz to come with him to a party there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A really lovely young man who happened to be gay, so no safer date existed. He said, you know, maybe I‘ll get further in rush if I have a pretty girl with me. He was like please, please, please, please would you go with me? I‘m like of course, you know of course I‘ll go. That‘s what you do, that‘s what friends do.
MAGNUS: Liz remembers walking into a familiar college scene. There was the requisite flamer of rock music blasting, a foosball game was in full swing, and there was the acrid scent of beer wafting through the room. No surprise, a 1984 yearbook showcases the fraternity‘s party hearty spirit.
(on camera): Were you drinking?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I had one full beer and I had refilled it. Was I drinking heavily? No. Absolutely not. I was completely aware of my surroundings.
MAGNUS (voice-over): The hour drew late and Liz wanted to leave, but before going, she said she was coaxed into joining a tour of the frat house. When she got upstairs, Liz says she was soon separated from the friend who had brought her there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two of the brothers said well while you‘re waiting for your friend, can we fix you something to drink and I said sure, and they‘re like we call this our house special and it was like a pale green drink and it was in one of those clear tumblers. It was something, you know, stronger than I was used to drinking.
MAGNUS: (on camera): It was clearly alcoholic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Liz says the mystery drink made her feel weird.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My arms and legs just didn‘t feel quite—felt rubbery, or like that of a marionette, you know, and yet I felt oddly panicky and I thought well once my friend gets back, he can walk me home. That was my concern that you know I didn‘t want to walk the five minutes back to my dorm alone because it wouldn‘t be safe.
MAGNUS (on camera): You thought staying inside the fraternity would be safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Not hardly. In the midst of her panicked haziness, Liz says one of the frat brothers hovering in the background started trying to chat her up.
(on camera): Did you know him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
MAGNUS: Had you seen him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never. Complete stranger to me.
MAGNUS: So then what happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He pulled me into his room. He had his arms around my waist from behind. He pulled me down on to his lap. I tried to get away.
MAGNUS: You asked him to stop?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.
MAGNUS (voice-over): But instead, Liz, who is slightly built, says the 6‘1” fraternity brother turned off the light, ripped off her clothes, and raped her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I can say is it was extremely painful. Violent. I thought I was going to die. The human brain does protect you from something that is so horrible. Mine hasn‘t because I remember far too much. And at some point I think my brain just said to my body, it‘s OK. Just shut down. It‘s OK to just fall asleep, to just be unconscious, because if I remained conscious through the whole thing, it would have destroyed me.
MAGNUS: The 17-year-old says she did not fully regain consciousness until the following morning when she found herself across the room on a sofa.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I awoke naked, wrapped in a bloody sheet, which I thought was vile and disgusting, and then I realized that it was my own blood.
MAGNUS: Remember, she‘d been a virgin. In so many ways, Liz says, she was never the same after that night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s like you‘re being killed and yet you still live. And you live with the memory of it. There were days where I almost wish I had died. So great is the shame, so great is the degradation and the humiliation.
ABRAMS: Liz Seccuro said she had no chance to fight back that night in the days, weeks, and months that followed, but she did get the chance over 20 years later. That door opened by her alleged attacker himself. Liz‘s second chance came in the mail; a letter from the man she says brutally raped her when she was a freshman at the University of Virginia. That‘s coming up.
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ABRAMS: We‘re back with a story about an alleged brutal rape and now over 20 years later, it‘s finally being prosecuted, because the man wrote his alleged victim a letter.
Here once again is “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was beyond the most disgusting thing I could think of.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Twenty-one years ago, Liz Seccuro, a then 17-year-old freshman at the University of Virginia, awoke to find herself naked and awash in her own blood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still am blaming myself for not just faking more of an interest in this person. Maybe he would have left me alone.
MAGNUS: She said she had her virginity stolen in a brutal rape the night before by a student whom she didn‘t know at a fraternity rush party.
(on camera): Was he there when you woke up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, fully dressed, packing his backpack, off to class, looked at me like nothing happened. And I‘m naked, in a bloody sheet. And of course, I don‘t want to say anything to him because I‘m afraid he‘s going to do it again.
MAGNUS: Did he say anything to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, just casual pleasantries, like morning, off to class. See you.
MAGNUS (voice-over): After he left, Liz rifled through his mail and learned his name, Beebe, William Beebe, a 19-year-old sophomore from New York. The dazed freshman says she walked out of the frat house and headed for the local emergency room almost a mile away. Once there, she said she waited for hours, but no doctor saw her.
(on camera): Did you show anyone your bruises?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I don‘t think that they were ignoring me. I think that, you know, people with graver injuries were presenting themselves at the time, and I just bailed, went to my dorm and took like the longest shower of my life. I just wanted to feel clean again.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Word quickly spread around Liz‘s dorm about the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liz‘s roommate said something is wrong, you need to come, you need to help. Something is wrong.
MAGNUS: A number of girls, including then 21-year-old senior Elizabeth Ludwig collected around the shaken freshman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a lot of hushed tones, she said she was raped, she said she was raped.
MAGNUS: They were sympathetic she says, but privately skeptical. Everybody knew about those high-octane frat parties. Liz, meanwhile, turned to the person who knew her better than almost anyone, her best friend Meghan, 100 miles away at Trinity University.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I said I‘m coming down.
MAGNUS: Meghan says with she arrived at Liz‘s door, she was stunned
by what she saw.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was just huddled on her bed in the corner, and just was—her arms wrapped around her legs and just sort of shivering and crying.
MAGNUS: Meghan says she took Liz to the student health office, where Liz was examined by an on duty nurse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just remember her saying words like, laceration, tearing.
MAGNUS: Liz says she filed a report with the UVA Campus Police, and met several times with the dean of students. But she was immediately put off by the tone of those talks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s like, do you think you just had sex with this guy and you‘re just embarrassed? No, no, I don‘t. And he said to me, well, I spoke with him, he said it was consensual. I mean here‘s this huge authority figure, he is my parent away from home, as it were. He tells me, you know, you might want to take a semester off or think about transferring.
MAGNUS: The prospect of bringing disciplinary charges against Beebe quickly became moot. One week after the alleged frat party sexual assault, William Beebe withdrew from UVA.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It certainly wasn‘t intimated at all that you know he was asked to leave. He left of his own volition.
MAGNUS: Nine days after the alleged rape, Liz had what she said was the most crushing conversation of all with her mom and dad. It was parents weekend, they were gathered in the dean‘s office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember sitting in his office and they were just weeping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was beside myself. You can imagine, I was just in another world, you know trying to grasp all this.
MAGNUS: Her father‘s instinct was to pull his daughter out of UVA right then and there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said absolutely not. I worked really hard to be here, and I haven‘t done anything wrong and I‘m going to stay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I laid some ground rules down to Liz, I told her she‘s got to call us every night and the first sign that she feels that she‘s uncomfortable here, call me and I‘ll fly down and pull her out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so I decided you know what, I‘m going to forgot this ever happened, I‘m going to push it to the back of my mind, I‘m going to soldier on.
MAGNUS: It wasn‘t that easy of course. Liz says she was often listless and jumpy. She gave two anonymous interviews during her college years to the school newspaper about being a victim of rape.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Telling my story. Just telling my story.
MAGNUS: But she did find enjoyment from joining a sorority, until one night in her junior year when the girls ordered a pizza. As fate would have it, it was Liz who answered the door.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doorbell rang, I opened the door, and there he is.
MAGNUS: It was William Beebe, the one time university student was now a pizza deliveryman in Charlottesville.
(on camera): You recognized him right away.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right away. You don‘t forget someone‘s eyes. I just shoved the money at him and kind of grabbed the pizza and ran. I literally thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest.
MAGNUS: Did you say anything to each other?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not.
MAGNUS: So there was nothing to sort of indicate the recognition?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, he knew I knew who he was and he—I know he knew who I was.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Seeing Beebe again made Liz realize how traumatized she really was. She graduated from UVA in 1988, but not with honors this time. Not even close. Still, Liz quickly found work in advertising, then too quickly jumped into a short and stormy first marriage with another UVA graduate. One of many unfortunate choices she now says in a life that was somehow less than it could have been.
(on camera): How often did you think of the assault?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best it ever got for me was you know maybe once a week. It‘s parts of who I am.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Another consequence of the trauma she says was the onset of chronic panic attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She just out of the blue says, I think I‘m having a heart attack.
MAGNUS: It was a panic attack in 1997, while she was dating Michael Seccuro that compelled her to tell him about the rape. Liz says it was always difficult when she had to talk about that chapter to a man she was interested in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like everybody else, will you run away from me, will you think I am trash, damaged in some way.
MAGNUS: But Michael didn‘t turn away. They were married in 1999.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But even though it‘s November 18...
MAGNUS: By then, she was a successful events planner, and he an investment banker. They went on to have a darling baby girl. Everything was going fine, until September 8, 2005. That‘s when the couple was leaving their home for a much-needed vacation, all that remained before they pulled out of the driveway was for Michael to get the mail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I gave it to her, and she‘s going through the mail, and just stops cold on this letter, just complete silence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn‘t have to open it, but I did. I could not breathe.
ABRAMS: Coming up, that letter. Liz Seccuro knew exactly who wrote it, the last person in the world she wanted or expected to hear from. With that in mind, she said she had no doubt as to what the letter would say.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing offenders before they strike. Our search this week is in Vermont.
Authorities are looking for Patrick Ryan. He‘s 62, six-one, 300 pounds, was convicted of sexual assault, has not registered his address with the state. If you‘ve got any information on where he is, please contact the Vermont Department of Public Safety, 802-244-8727. We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: Liz Seccuro has tried to move on from that October night in 1984, when she says a fellow student at the University of Virginia, William Beebe, violently raped her. Last September, the memories that haunted her for 21 years came rushing back when she found a letter from Beebe in her mailbox.
Here‘s “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew within a nanosecond what was inside. I didn‘t even have to open it.
MAGNUS (on camera): When you say I knew in a nanosecond what was inside...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was my rapist apologizing to me, plain and simple. His conscience and karma finally caught up with him and he‘s writing to say he‘s sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She started crying. It started as a cry and got to weeping.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Then through her burst of tears, Liz started reading.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear Elizabeth, in 1984 I harmed you. I can scarcely begin to understand the degree to which through your eyes my behavior has affected you in its wake. Still I stand prepared to hear from you about just how and in what ways you have been affected and to begin to set right the wrong I‘ve done in any way you see fit.
MAGNUS: At first it seemed like the validation she‘d always been seeking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knows he did it, I know he did it. God knows he did it. We‘re all on the same page now.
MAGNUS: But quickly, these three little paragraphs unleashed a cascade of emotions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anger, regret, oh you stupid idiot, you know why didn‘t you just admit to it then. I was laughing, I was crying, I was angry. Just one big huge emotional, you know, grab bag at that point.
MAGNUS (on camera): Were you moved at all by his apparent anguish and his sincerity over making amends?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t want to seem heartless, but my answer is no.
MAGNUS (voice-over): After a couple weeks of wondering whether to ignore him or respond, Liz decided to e-mail him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember saying you know I‘m in receipt of your letter. How can you live with yourself?
MAGNUS: And so began a remarkable correspondence between Liz and her alleged attacker. She was intent on probing into the past.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to know who he was. I wanted to know why he did this.
MAGNUS: Beebe wrote that his unrestrained drinking habit started well before the assault and only worsened afterward.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the incident, I was disgusted with myself. I took to understand that I‘d caused an even bigger problem than I‘d previously believed. I felt like dying.
MAGNUS (on camera): He doesn‘t use the word rape initially.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Harmed, the incident, what I did to you.
MAGNUS: You wanted him to use it though, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I mean why half apologize. Own up to what you did. Use the word.
MAGNUS (voice-over): But Beebe didn‘t. He did describe a sorry life. He‘d never married, he wrote, nor had children and his drunkenness had cost Beebe job after job he wrote, before he finally committed to Alcoholics Anonymous years earlier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not know how I was going to set about repairing wrongs I believed I could never fully right, most especially in the situation with you, which haunted me most of all. But I clung to the belief that what had worked in so many before me would work in me too.
MAGNUS: Repairing wrongs, Beebe was talking about the 12 steps A.A. members take in conjunction with staying sober. Steps eight and nine deal with making amends to people one has harmed in the past. That was why he‘d reached out to her. The prospect of being able to apologize, he wrote, was something he‘d thought about for years.
(on camera): Do you give him any credit at all for having come forward after all these years and acknowledging what he did?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it takes strength to admit to past wrongs. I also think this is a man who‘s walked free for 20 years, while I‘ve struggled with this.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Liz thought Beebe still wasn‘t stepping up. He still hadn‘t used the word rape and she was particularly put off when he implied in a subsequent e-mail, that at some point that night, all was calm, even pleasant between them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started to make out in my room a while. There was no fight and it was all over in short order. When we awoke in the morning, you walked home.
MAGNUS: This relatively benign version of events left Liz furious. Two and a half months after Beebe first contacted her, she fired off an especially embittered e-mail.
I did not get to choose being raped and having my virginity taken from me so brutally, she wrote. I am angry that your account is so very different than mine, which is burned into my memory as if it happened yesterday. I feel raped and betrayed a second time.
I have the most difficulty in your careful choice of words. Harm, what I did to you at all, don‘t really feel like coming clean to me. I suppose it‘s a difficult word to utter or even write for you. A few hours later, Beebe responded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear Liz. I want to make clear that I‘m not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did.
MAGNUS (on camera): What was it like to get that e-mail?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some relief, sure, but I mean I knew all along what he was talking about from the time he sent the letter.
MAGNUS: Were you trying to get him to use the word so that you could then go to the police and get them to come after him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I needed the word for me.
MAGNUS (voice-over): It turns out, she needed more than that. And soon enough, the letter seeking forgiveness would be turned over as evidence of a crime.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the man Liz Seccuro says raped her 21 years ago asks for her forgiveness. She‘s asking for justice in a court of law. We‘ll talk to her later in the program.
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ABRAMS: Coming up, Liz Seccuro says she was raped 21 years ago when she was a freshman at the University of Virginia. Just this past September, that man wrote her a letter and then e-mails. She‘s turned all of it over to police and now he‘s been charged, first the headlines.
ABRAMS: Twenty-one years after she was allegedly raped, Liz Seccuro faces a choice. Forgive the man who she says changed her life forever, or change his life forever, and take him to court.
Once again, here‘s “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
MAGNUS (voice-over): The way Liz Seccuro saw fit to handle William Beebe‘s apology for allegedly raping her in 1984 was probably not what he had in mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in my office. It was just an ordinary day, and I just picked up the phone, didn‘t share it with family, there was no plan. I just thought what the hell, maybe they can help me.
MAGNUS: They are the Charlottesville police. Now December 2005, Liz was calling them to report a crime that had taken place 21 years earlier. Without knowing where it would lead, Liz left a message for the police chief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m like, I was raped in 1984 and the rapist just sent me a letter and we‘ve been e-mailing and he admits to the crime and I don‘t think you have jurisdiction—you know I was just babbling. I‘m like that man is never going to call me back. Sure enough, he called me back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What else would I do other than to take her seriously and we did.
MAGNUS: Tim Longo has been the chief of police in Charlottesville for the past five years.
MAGNUS: What made you believe her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her sense of urgency and sincerity. And also a sense that hey, something wrong has happened to me, and nobody seems to want to help.
MAGNUS: Chief Longo asked Liz to come in to file a complaint, which she promptly did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no statute of limitations on any felony in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
MAGNUS (on camera): Including rape?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Including rape, and rape is a felony crime.
MAGNUS: So you can investigate this no matter how many years after the fact.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s correct.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said I‘m going to assign two detectives to you and you‘re going to be hearing from them tomorrow. He goes you‘re very brave to come forward and do this. I didn‘t really know what this was. I guess the implication that I was going to be pressing charges, like really hadn‘t wrapped my brain around that. But if I was going to do this, I‘m going to do this to the end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m not aware of any police investigation that was conducted at that time.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Detectives did unearth one report, which corroborates parts of her story. Undertaken for the dean of students, it was kept under seal all these years. Liz herself received a copy only recently. Three witnesses from the frat party that night offered some disturbing accounts of the horror she‘d endured.
One told of seeing a young man, presumably Beebe, the names are all blacked out, with blood on the thigh of his jeans. The same witness also spoke of seeing a sleeping woman, presumably Liz, partially exposed, and bleeding in the vaginal area. Another witness said there may have been drugs in that green mystery drink that Liz said made her feel all rubbery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was at least some documentation that memorialized that this incident occurred or that it was reported to have occurred.
MAGNUS: And of course, detectives had the letter Beebe had sent Liz and the e-mails that followed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They make pretty clear that, you know, something happened for which I‘m apologetic for.
MAGNUS: In January, 2006, four weeks after Liz filed a report with the Charlottesville police, Chief Longo placed a call to the Las Vegas police, they then arrested William Beebe, now a real estate agent there.
(on camera): Why not give him a break?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What for? So it‘s not a crime if you apologize for it? People try to get me to say oh yes, I feel so badly for him. No, I don‘t.
MAGNUS: Did it make a difference to you at all that he was telling you he was an alcoholic?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn‘t make it right. Oh, I was a drunk, therefore I raped you. What am I have supposed to say? I‘m sorry for the pain and suffering that you‘ve suffered as an addict? What about the pain and suffering you caused me? I mean, in my heart of hearts, I have forgiven him for what he did to me.
MAGNUS: But you still want to see him be made to pay for it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. It‘s about him paying his debt to society and to me, it‘s about me moving on with my life.
ABRAMS: Liz Seccuro wants nothing more than to move on with her life.
To do that, does it mean sending her alleged rapist to prison?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I invite you to contact me any way you‘d like, anywhere at any time with anyone. I remain available to you always at your discretion without any reservation whatsoever. Most sincerely yours, Will Beebe.
MAGNUS (voice-over): On March 24 of this year, William Beebe, the man who wrote this letter of apology to Liz Seccuro would be forced to face charges for what she says he did to her 21 years earlier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no way once she opened that letter and read that letter that you could just say oh, I forgive you and put it down. That would have created even more pain on us and our family.
MAGNUS (on camera): Would you rather that you had not heard from him at all?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some days yes, some days no. Everything is B.L. and A.L., before the letter and after the letter. You know that‘s how we‘re defining our lives now.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Liz and her husband Michael flew into Charlottesville, Virginia, for a preliminary hearing. Its purpose, to consider if there was probable cause to believe Beebe had raped Liz and therefore whether a grand jury should be convened to consider indicting him for rape. A crime, which carries a prison sentence of five years to life.
Beebe was already sitting when Liz entered the courtroom. Nervous, but defiant, she scowled when she finally stole a peek at him. A few minutes later, when the judge asked Liz to identify her assailant, she looked at Beebe but an instant before pointing at the grim faced man across from her.
Over the next two hours, Liz gave her version of the assault, tearing up when she recounted the rape itself. By the end of the afternoon, Liz got what she‘d hoped for 21 years ago. The judge ruled the rape case against William Beebe would go forward to the grand jury.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks exactly as I recall, so that‘s what was very hard. I was a scared 17-year-old in an instant.
MAGNUS: Beebe surrendered his passport and is out on bond living with friends in Richmond. He was ordered by the judge to have no contact with Liz, and to keep attending A.A. meetings. It would seem like an open and shut case, particularly given that incriminating e-mail Beebe sent Liz saying I‘m not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did.
But Beebe‘s attorney is suggesting otherwise. In a statement to “Dateline,” his lawyer wrote, Mr. Beebe did not rape Ms. Seccuro. He treated her thoughtlessly in a college sex encounter, for which he was sorry. As for all the e-mails, the lawyer says Mr. Beebe sought only to avoid conflict, not to answer for a crime he did not commit.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m like are you kidding me? Oh, this was—you know he was not apologizing for rape, he was apologizing for being ungentlemanly and immature and unkind. Please.
MAGNUS: There are perhaps 35 incidents of rape for every 1,000-college women according to the latest government study. Most of these assaults go unreported to the police.
MAGNUS: The issue has sparked protests on many college campuses. And little more than a year ago, students at UVA, where Liz went to school, staged a silent protest condemning what they termed the silence surrounding rape and sexual assault at the university. This coupled with several rape victims coming forward to publicly tell their stories helped prompt UVA to change its policies on sexual assault. Liz herself recently started STARS, a foundation to help victims of rape get crucial medical, psychological, and legal counseling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a responsibility to the 17-year-old person that I was to make this right for her. I have a 3-year-old daughter. Do I want her to go to a university and have this happen? If I stay silent, nothing is going to change.
MAGNUS (on camera): The man who was UVA‘s dean of students in 1984 and who Liz says was insensitive to her, declined to be interviewed on camera by “Dateline”, but in a brief phone conversation, he said he is comfortable with the way he treated Liz, and that he and the university did not minimize or mishandle Liz‘s charges, saying it‘s contrary to what we stood for.
In a separate statement, a current UVA official urged us not to compare the way the university handled Liz‘s 1984 allegations with how such issues are handled today. The university, the statement reads, does not and will not tolerate acts of violence against students.
(voice-over): In mid April, a grand jury indicted William Beebe for forcible rape of Liz Seccuro in 1984 and ordered that he stand trial, scheduled for this fall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I ready for trial? Absolutely. I train like a marathoner trains, literally. I am logging in way too many hours on the treadmill because the noise in my brain, nothing quiets it. Did I realize this was what I was signing up for? No.
ABRAMS: Coming up my interview with Liz Seccuro, she tells me what it was like to sit face-to-face in court with the man she says raped her.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing offenders before they strike. This week we‘re in Vermont.
Police want your help locating Gregory Amerio. He‘s 35, five-eight, 140, was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, has not registered his address with the state. If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Vermont Department of Public Safety, 802-244-8727. We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: Liz Seccuro, 21 years after she was allegedly raped, received a letter from the man she says is responsible. That letter led to an e-mail correspondence lasting months and eventually leading to a rape charge. Liz had lots of questions and William Beebe didn‘t necessarily have the answers she was looking for. I sat down with her last week.
ABRAMS: From the moment that you got that note, the first note in the mail, did you think to yourself, I want to make sure I‘m able to take this guy to the police?
LIZ SECCURO, ALLEGEDLY RAPED 21 YEARS AGO: No. I thought, I want to make sure that we‘re safe. Because I‘m living at home with my 2-year-old, the word police didn‘t hit me for months, wasn‘t part of my consciousness. I was too much in shock and just wanted to make sure we were safe.
ABRAMS: But you said that you knew from seeing the envelope that it was from him. How did you know?
SECCURO: Because I remembered his name obviously, and I knew—I certainly knew...
ABRAMS: You knew it was going to be an apology...
SECCURO: I knew exactly what it was...
ABRAMS: ... right?
ABRAMS: You said in the piece that you knew it was going to be an apology.
SECCURO: Yes, I sat with it in my lap for a few minutes. I didn‘t need to open it and there are some people who say well why did you. Well, if you are who I am, you have to. It‘s something—it‘s so compelling. It‘s something that you live with daily, so in opening it, I knew what it would be, but I didn‘t have a course of action at all.
ABRAMS: If he had said from the beginning, I raped you, I‘m sorry, I want to do anything I can to remedy that and he had said that consistently, used that word again and again in all his notes, would you have still gone to the police?
SECCURO: Yes. Because to me, that is what he said.
ABRAMS: Because it sounded like you were frustrated at the way he was sort of using these terms that didn‘t quite use the word rape, sorry for what I did to you, sorry for what you went through, and it sounded like you were frustrated about that.
SECCURO: As other survivors will know, I think you need that word and it had nothing to do with anything legal or—nothing like that. You need the word for yourself. You need the word—I needed the word for me, for validation.
There‘s one thing that what people don‘t understand when you‘re a rape survivor, it‘s always about will someone believe me, will my husband believe me, will the cops believe me, will the lawyers believe me. Not the personal me, but anyone who has gone through the system and part of speaking out is explaining to people that you can live, you can thrive, you can survive and go through the system, because traditionally rape victims are not treated well by defense.
ABRAMS: You don‘t feel sorry for this guy in any way, do you?
SECCURO: I feel—well, I‘m not sure what‘s real and what‘s not real and what he—in his communications to me. I don‘t think that feeling sorry for someone because they‘ve struggled and had torture has anything to do—does he feel sorry for me? Maybe.
ABRAMS: Do you believe that his life changed after that day, the way he claimed that it did?
SECCURO: I can‘t speak for him. I would hope that after committing such a terrible thing to another human that your life would change, that you become—I think you become—I think we all become somebody different in how we interact with other people, people come into our lives and out of them, whether it‘s tragic or it‘s a good thing and it becomes part of who you are, just as being a rape survivor and not a victim is part of who I am, and everybody who knows me, knows that. It is what it is.
ABRAMS: How hard was it for you to be in court with him?
SECCURO: You know, Dan that is just—as much as they prepare you for that moment and that eventuality, first all, it was in juvenile court because I was 17 when this happened and he was sitting maybe another foot or two beyond where you‘re sitting with me now, not a whole lot of space. It wasn‘t—it was surreal.
I don‘t really remember a whole lot about it. Two hours of testimony, which is nothing, you know compared to trial. It wasn‘t—I only looked at him once, even though he‘s almost as close.
ABRAMS: Is there a sense of relief or is this—is that not the right word?
SECCURO: It‘s not the right word. I think there is—nor is closure. I mean I‘m not angry, I‘m not looking for vengeance. I think that it‘s just—there‘s a sense of relief that it‘s working itself through the process, through the criminal justice system where it belongs. Relief for that, yes.
ABRAMS: His defense it sounds like now is that apparently these letters have been misinterpreted, that he‘s saying, oh, it wasn‘t a rape. It was just a sexual encounter that was regrettable. Something along those lines. That must really get you angry. You said you weren‘t angry, but that must get you angry?
SECCURO: I‘m not angry. It‘s invalidation once again and I don‘t even know, what does that mean? What is a regrettable sexual encounter. What...
ABRAMS: Well, I mean it sound—I mean look, it sounds to me...
SECCURO: You‘re an attorney.
ABRAMS: Look, I mean it sounds to me like he‘s going to say that it was consensual, but unfortunate and that you were—you were angry about it, he was angry about it, but he didn‘t handle it well, that he didn‘t behave well, but it doesn‘t sound like he‘s going to come forward and say that there was anything illegal.
SECCURO: But what is regrettable. I mean, how is it consensual when I‘m waking up across the room completely battered and covered in a bloody sheet. You know. It doesn‘t anger me—put it this way and I believe the system does work. I think that everybody is entitled to the best defense that they can—you know, it‘s our system.
ABRAMS: But we can also sit here and say, when you‘re in the position that you are...
ABRAMS: ... that it‘s a crock. I mean you can sit there and say...
ABRAMS: ... that—you know, that it‘s not OK...
ABRAMS: ... after everything that‘s happened...
SECCURO: No, it‘s not OK. It‘s not OK, but at the same time, it‘s the reality and I think if anything—if I‘m encouraging other survivors to speak out, because I feel that defense tactics really haven‘t been good for rape victims. I mean five percent of rapes are ever even reported and of those three percent are adjudicated.
ABRAMS: If he doesn‘t serve a lot of time, if he gets—because I saw you say somewhere that you said if he gets six months, that will be OK, and I guess that‘s what I‘m wondering, is if he doesn‘t get a lot of time, but serves some amount of time, will that at least say to you, there‘s been some accountability or is that just not enough?
SECCURO: No, I‘m fine with whatever amount of time he gets if there‘s a conviction.
ABRAMS: Are there any questions that you still have for him?
SECCURO: Why did you do this?
ABRAMS: ... why did you do this?
SECCURO: There is the why did you do this. I mean everybody has been—look, you went to Duke. I went to UVA, very similar. Everybody has been to you know fraternity parties. Obviously I‘d only been there for four weeks, knew nobody, 17 years old, but I mean isn‘t there a place in time at which every guy has sort of been like rejected and you kind of go away and you slink away and you‘re, you know, you‘re drunk.
I mean but to go that far, that violently, that brutally, like why? And if it hadn‘t been me, would it have been somebody else or was it just did I do something to anger you? Did I—was it—I‘m still blaming myself...
SECCURO: Yes. Oh, yes. And I can‘t do that. I can‘t do that forever.
ABRAMS: Still to this day?
ABRAMS: You say why did I stay...
SECCURO: Why did I go to the party? Why did I go with my friend who really desperately wanted to belong? Why did I...
ABRAMS: But how can you blame yourself for that? I mean...
SECCURO: It‘s what we do and it‘s something that‘s ongoing and part of my healing and I had actually gotten to a place of, you know, a place of OK of peace. I‘m not some tortured—you know I‘ve obviously gone on to build a life, but this brings everything back. I still want to know why and I‘ve asked him and I‘m not getting any answers.
I don‘t know if I ever will. If he goes to prison, I‘m going to ask him there. I just—I really do want to know why. I just—it can‘t be all that simple or maybe it is. I mean when people—I rail against people who say oh it‘s youthful indiscretion and boys will be boys.
Dan, you know that‘s not true, you know, because one bad egg does not the carton make and there are a lot of wonderful people out there. I‘m not any sort of a man hater. I don‘t have a feminist agenda here. I‘m just simply trying to speak for those who don‘t have a voice to say you know it‘s OK, the system is working. It goes through the system and you need to trust the people who guide you through the system, as scary as it may seem and as unpleasant as some of these moments are.
ABRAMS: Ms. Seccuro, thank you very much for taking the time coming in. I appreciate it.
SECCURO: Thank you, Dan. Thank you. I appreciate it too.
ABRAMS: We‘ll be back in a moment.
ABRAMS: That does it for us this Memorial Day. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Chris sits down with the Reverend Billy Graham.
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