The ninth step of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program calls on members to make amends with those they have harmed — unless doing so would cause further injury.
William Beebe's decision to confess to the woman he'd sexually assaulted more than two decades earlier finally brought her justice, but it also landed him in prison.
On Thursday, a judge sentenced Beebe to 18 months in prison for attacking Liz Seccuro in 1984 at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia.
"To me, this was never about step nine," Seccuro said. "Alcohol doesn't rape people. People rape people."
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. In one e-mail, Beebe wrote: "I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did."
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 recalls 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.
Seccuro, 40, of Greenwich, Conn., eventually called Charlottesville police to report her correspondence with Beebe. There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Virginia, and Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas.
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 deal 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 7 1/2-year prison sentence the judge suspended.
"I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, but I was a different person then," said Beebe, 42, of Las Vegas, describing how sobriety has changed him. "I have a purpose, and that gives life meaning. I didn't have that then."
Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward 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."
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.
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."
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."
Beebe's decision to contact Seccuro after more than two decades sent her life into upheaval, Seccuro said. She has suffered two miscarriages she attributes to stress, endured frequent panic attacks and had to contend with harsh criticism from those who disagreed with her decision to press charges.
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.
Seccuro says 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 can 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.
On the Net:
STARS Survivors: http://www.starssurvivors.com
Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org
Associated Press Writer Matt Reed contributed to this report.