Bombshell dropped as Beebe pleads
Ten months after he was arrested and charged with raping a fellow UVA student in October 1984, 41-year-old William Nottingham Beebe entered Charlottesville Circuit Court today, pled guilty to a lesser charge of felony aggravated sexual battery, and agreed to the prosecution's suggested sentence of two years behind bars. And while the plea brings an end to Beebe's prosecution, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Claude Worrell dropped a bombshell: the investigation isn't over.
"Other sexual assaults occurred that night by other individuals in that fraternity," Worrell announced to the court. "Beebe has agreed to cooperate."
Beebe's victim, Liz Seccuro, was a 17-year-old first year student when she attended a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on October 6, 1984. Although she was present as Beebe entered his plea today, she did not take the stand. In earlier cases, however, she testified to drinking a small quantity of beer and a glass of lime-green punch at the party. Soon after drinking the punch, she has testified, she began to feel that her limbs were heavy and she had difficulty moving.
Worrell said in court today that the ongoing investigation has revealed the punch contained not a date rape drug, but grain alcohol, and that Seccuro, then an inexperienced, underage drinker, was unaware of the effects the punch would have on her.
On the night of the assault, Beebe, then 19, had attended a Grateful Dead concert in Richmond, Worrell said, and when he arrived back to his fraternity house, he discovered Seccuro unconscious in the fraternity's "chapter room," a meeting space on the third floor of the house. At some point, Seccuro ended up in Beebe's room, but Worrell did not offer an explanation in court for how that occurred. Worrell said that although Beebe admitted during a police interview that Seccuro was "in no condition to consent," he proceeded to have sexual intercourse with her. "She bleeds," Worrell said, "and there is a witness who sees him exit the room with blood on his pants."
Another witness has also reported seeing Seccuro on the bed, Worrell said. He offered no further information on the nature or timing of other sexual attacks, who could have committed them, names of witnesses, or whether there could be any other victim beside Seccuro.
One name that's included in the case file: William L. "Buck" Whitehurst, a Phi Kappa Psi member and a 1984 UVA graduate. Whitehurst may be merely a witness, but he has not returned the Hook's calls for comment.
For Beebe, the lighter sentence depends on his cooperation with the Commonwealth.
Although the charge of aggravated sexual battery conviction carries a maximum of 20 years behind bars, Beebe could have faced two life sentences had he been convicted of felony rape and animate object penetration.
"In a jury trial, you can never guarantee yourself a result," said Worrell.
Beebe's attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, said the plea agreement "more closely accommodates what happened 22 years ago."
After Worrell assured Judge Edward Hogshire that Seccuro supports the plea, Hogshire accepted it, stressing that "This court is not willing to be bound by any recommendation to reduce the sentence."
If Hogshire determines that the sentence of two years is insufficient, Beebe will have the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea and request a jury trial on the original charges. Sentencing is set for March 15, 2007. Until then, Beebe must continue to abide by the conditions of his bail. He will, however, be permitted to regularly visit his ailing mother in Florida.
Following the hearing, Seccuro, flanked by her husband, Michael Seccuro, offered a short statement to the media, thanking the people of Charlottesville, the Commonwealth's Attorney, and Charlottesville police for their work on the investigation.
Beebe offered his first public comments since his arrest as he left the courthouse.
"Twenty two years ago last month, I crossed a line in the standards of conduct with Liz Seccuro," he said. "I regretted that conduct immediately afterward and since. I always wanted to find some form of effective closure for both of us."
Beebe, a longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, said he tried to keep his emails to Seccuro, in which he eventually admitted to raping her, "open and full of human understanding."
His only reason for contacting Seccuro, he said, was "to bring peace to our lives." The plea, Beebe explained, is a way to "acknowledge formally what I tried to acknowledge in my letter. Twenty two years ago, I harmed another person," he said, "and I have tried to set that right."
Seccuro, who gathered with two friends and her husband at the Mudhouse coffee shop on the Downtown Mall following the hearing, says that while she's "relieved" she won't have to face cross examination, she hopes people understand the plea is not a cop-out.
"I don't want rape survivors to think we cut a deal because it's hard to take the stand," she says. "I would happily have done so. The deal has more to do with how Mr. Beebe can help the Commonwealth in seeking the truth. I have every right to know what happened to me that night."