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March 15, 2007

Sentencing means always watching out how you say you're sorry

This AP story spotlights an interesting case due for sentencing on Thursday in Virginia state court:

More than two decades after he sexually assaulted a fellow student at a University of Virginia party, a man who later apologized to his victim as part of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program faces sentencing for the crime.  William Beebe was to appear in court Thursday to learn his punishment for attacking Liz Seccuro in 1984.  The case was revived in 2005 after Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter of apology in an attempt to make amends for the assault. 

Beebe, 42, 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 agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of two years in prison. 

The plea agreement was reached after investigators uncovered new information suggesting Seccuro was attacked by more than one person that night.  Authorities hoped Beebe could help them in their investigation, but no additional arrests have been made....

In 2005, Beebe wrote 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."

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.

Some related posts:

UPDATEThis AP story, which has lots of details about the case and the sentencing proceeding, reports that Beebe received a prison term of 18 months.

March 15, 2007 at 07:40 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 15, 2007 8:02:43 AM


One of the keys to the twelve-step ideology is to accept the consequences of your actions. This man is doing so.

And cheers to the victim for stepping up and demanding justice at this late date.

Having said all that, I wonder how this story will effect other offenders in the same situation. I'd have to believe that extensive correspondence with victims will be avoided.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Mar 15, 2007 9:58:33 AM

Way to exercise that prosecutorial discretion. Of course it's totally legal. But it's stupid and will only deter others from following the same course.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 15, 2007 10:20:28 AM

They recommend two years in prison for forcible rape and that's not exercising discretion? No, no, you're right -- since he confessed to forcible rape and felt bad about it, he should get probation.

Posted by: LonesomeClerk | Mar 15, 2007 11:19:28 AM

I think there is more to the story then we are hearing. Maybe there are other participants, and the two-year deal is just the beginning of a series of prosecutions.

When I first heard of the story, I was told that people her actions wrong, and un-Christian. However, they didn’t really explain why the apology was, in fact, good enough.

Posted by: S.couts | Mar 15, 2007 12:53:51 PM

I am a Criminal Justice Student.

This poor, poor man was trying to do what's right and his victim tries to lynch him after 20 years. It seems from what i've read that the woman still doesn't accept his apology, even though she says she did. I agree with the sentence and i hope he can get past this and move on with his life. Hopefully the victim and offender can both find closure.

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 15, 2007 6:56:20 PM


1) This woman, for whom you have no sympathy, even though she was a victim of a terrible crime, does not have to accept her rapist's apology.

2) The word "lynch", which denotes an extra-legal killing is simply wrong here, and given the context, downright offensive.

3) A better description of what this "poor poor man" was trying to do is mitigate a wrong long since committed, not "do what's right".

Posted by: federalist | Mar 15, 2007 8:54:18 PM

"I'm sorry" is usually a way to do whatever you want and then force the person you did it to to forgive you. This woman was gang-raped and foreign objects were shoved in her. 20 years later he drops her a note. I hate to be regionalist but it seems the South is particularly bad about violating people's rights and then apologizing. If you don't accept the apology, something is wrong with you. The worst examples are the southern golfer who made racist statements about Tiger Woods then "apologized." Instead of the golfer getting kicked out, Tiger Woods was pressured into accepting his apology. The absolute worst was Susan Smith of SC who drove her two kids into the lake and then accused a black man of abducting them. It took them a half hour to drown and she could have repented and saved their lives but she didn't. The whole country went on a manhunt as she watched dry eyed. Only after she was caught did she turn on the tears and scream to her poor ex-husband "I'M SORRY!!!" Know what? You really are.

Posted by: Gail | Mar 16, 2007 5:18:26 AM

Mr. Beebe deserved some form of punishment for this crime but all 17 year old freshmen should learn from this lady. DO NOT put yourself in a stupid dangerous situation. Clearly some small amount of common sense is necessary.

Posted by: George | Mar 16, 2007 9:53:17 AM

That's right -- blame the victim -- how dare she as a college freshman go to a party and drink -- she clearly was asking to be gang raped. C'mon George...

Posted by: LonesomeClerk | Mar 16, 2007 10:03:15 AM

How are we to judge whether the man's apology was sincere or not? How dare we say he is 'mitigating' the fact when we know nothing of him other than what we have heard. Yes, he did commit a horrible crime, but it seems no matter how he tries to make amends it still won't be enough. I guess if i ever wrong someone and try to make amends I might as well never do it if this is what is going to happen to me. I'm sure there are plenty of criminals out there that would love to get their crimes off their backs and be free, but I also bet that alot of them have suffered themselves for their crimes. Why would they ever confess if they are treated like subhumans when they are trying to do the right thing? For what reason would Bebee have to confess to his crime when he would know he could be put in jail for it? If I had committed the crime, didn't feel sorry/remorseful about it, why would I care about the victim?

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 16, 2007 10:14:35 AM

Only a cynical, victim personality would consider apologizing for bad behavior to be an attempt at legitimizing that behavior. People do make mistakes and have regrets and an apology is the first step to attempting to own the behavior and make amends.

Securro apparently made the smarmy comment that "alcohol doesn't rape people, people rape people." Let's take that a bit further. How about if we say that "alcohol doesn't say 'yes' people say 'yes'" when women use alcohol as their excuse for the morning after regret claims of rape while under the influence.

Securro is a victim, because she clearly enjoys that role. But she's not a survivor. She went to a college party and she wasn't careful. She doesn't even remember what happened herself, except that she was penetrated. And 23 years later, she still hasn't gotten over her own belief that her vagina is a sacred object that the college and the legal system are responsible for.

It sounds as if Beebe took responsibility for his life and is moving forward, but Securro seems to want to remain stuck in her victimhood.

Does he deserve to be "punished?" By law, yes. But he's been sentenced due to a combination of two factors. The first is his ownership of his own behavior. The second is Securro's pathetic need for revenge.

Posted by: Lynn | Mar 16, 2007 10:15:05 AM

George, from arguing that kiddie porn victims aren't victimized again when some onanistic freak views their pictures to blaming a rape victim, you have an interesting moral outlook.

Posted by: | Mar 16, 2007 10:17:49 AM

Kiddie porn victims AREN'T victimized again when someone looks at their pictures. That's just a fact. And no one is "blaming the victim" here. If she was raped, she was raped. All George and Lynn are saying is that her behavior was stupid and people shouldn't do stupid things that place themselves in harm's way.

Isn't it just as important to draw lessons on how to prevent this from happening to more people as it is to punish the offender when it does happen? Or maybe you would rather more women get raped just so you can carry out your judgmental desire to punish? Who's got an "interesting moral outlook" now?

Posted by: Anon | Mar 16, 2007 10:23:42 AM

Lynn, is the sky blue on your planet?

This woman was 18 years old, clearly was raped and the college didn't listen, didn't take her seriously or anything. What, if a woman gets drunk, does her vagina simply become an open door, free for any loser to stick it in? And what, people don't get the protection of the criminal law if they get drunk, or too much time passes?

Sick. That's all I can say.

Posted by: | Mar 16, 2007 10:31:55 AM

10:17:49 AM, I think you need to take George’s arguments seriously.

First of all, we really have not decided exactly what harm all child pr0n does. For instance, when 16-year-olds send dirty pictures to each other via the internet, it isn’t clear exactly who is harmed, and whether that harm is the same as when people kidnap children. But, if you have a good way of explaining why these things are similar, then I am all ears, since I think too few people are in jail in the US.

There might be a fatal flaw in your argument, because you seem to be arguing that production of child pr0n is a continuing offense. This essentially would mean that if a 16-year-old takes a naked picture of themself, for the rest of their life they are subject to punishment, and can be convicted of a felony at any time, if someone views the picture. At that point the 25, 30, or 75, year old, by your argument is victimized again.

Secondly, at some point, if this instant case goes to trial, the prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she consented. It may very well be that in some states (particularly a long time ago) that consent might be implied based on the attendant circumstances. Again, I tend to defer to the prosecution, not on the merits, but just because I want more people in jail.

Anon, saying that this are “just a fact” doesn’t resolve the issue as a legal matter. You need to provide more specifics.

Posted by: S.couts | Mar 16, 2007 11:18:35 AM

I am a student and a teacher.

Given that the investigators now believe Liz Securro was gang raped I don't understand how posters can claim that Beebe is taking responsibility and moving on, but Liz Seccuro is not. Doesn't Beebe still claim that he was the only man there that night, or was his plea deal based on him giving additional information about other rapists?

I think it's admirable, and self serving, that Beebe wanted to apologize. He said he was haunted by the events of that night. After reading the story on MSNBC.com, it seems clear that he apologized to ease his own agony, not out of any real concern for his victim. After all, from 1984-1993 the man couldn't stop drinking. It sounds like he deserves at least 18 months to me.

Lastly, it amazes me to read so many responses from people who think that if you commit a crime and wait 20 years to apologize you should be able to walk away, and that it's the victim's fault if you have to pay for your crime.

Posted by: Loulu | Mar 16, 2007 4:03:16 PM

What kind of a "teacher" are you?

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 16, 2007 10:39:37 PM

I am a law student of Professor Berman's and do not claim to be an expert in this area but thought that I'd share my humble 1L thoughts on the Beebe situation. The victim's decision to turn him in and the prosecutor's decision to prosecute him seem completely logical and, more importantly, JUST to me. From both a utilitarian general deterrence and retributivist "just deserts" perspective, Beebe's punishment was necessary.

Posted by: Mommy-in-law | Mar 18, 2007 1:14:07 PM

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