NEWS- Certified: Rape case goes to grand jury
It had already been a long day for Liz Seccuro by the time she arrived at Fuel Co. bistro at 5pm on Friday, March 24. She was there to meet a group of her sorority sisters and other friends who had come to downtown Charlottesville to show their support.
Nearly 22 years after she'd allegedly been raped in a UVA fraternity house, and six months after her assailant first contacted her to apologize, Seccuro had come face to face with him. In a small courtroom in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court earlier that afternoon, Judge Edward DeJ. Berry had certified the rape charges against William N. Beebe to a grand jury.
Seeing Beebe after so long, Seccuro says, was even harder than she'd imagined. "Because of the small size of the courtroom and the way he was ushered in," she says, "it was shocking."
During the hearing, Seccuro and Beebe, who is free on bond and staying with friends in Richmond, sat at opposite tables approximately eight feet apart.
Following the hearing, Seccuro and her husband left through a back door, avoiding the cameras and boom mics gathered out front from nearly every Central Virginia media outlet.
Beebe smiled but remained silent as he was mobbed by inquisitive journalists as he and his attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, walked the one block to her Park Street office about 4pm. He declined comment.
By the time Seccuro arrived at Fuel nearly an hour later, the throng had been cut to a single camera crew from national NBC news show Dateline and this Hook reporter.
After speaking with Dateline in the store area of Fuel, Seccuro and her husband, Mike, entered the small private room they'd reserved as a reception area for friends and family.
Dateline's cameras captured the immediate outpouring of support she received from six of her Alpha Phi sorority sisters, who had dressed in pink as a symbol of unity and to commemorate Seccuro's new nonprofit, STARS (Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors). The organization will provide funds, Seccuro says, for sexual assault education and resources on college campuses.
"You were so strong," said Seccuro's Alpha Phi sister Shannon Humphries. "You did absolutely fabulous," said Shari Larson, with the rest of the group huddling around her.
Nearby stood Susan Russell, who founded the website uvavictimsofrape.com, after her daughter, Kathryn, who was also present at Fuel, reported being raped at UVA in early 2004.
"I thought she was very strong," said Russell of Seccuro's testimony.
After mere minutes of filming, however, Seccuro's husband counted backwards from 10 and then said, "That's it; cameras out." With the intrusive glare of camera lights and the insistent presence of microphones removed, the reunion between Seccuro's friends– some of whom hadn't seen each other in nearly 20 years– continued.
"It was exhausting," said sorority sister Donna Wade of the hearing, during which Seccuro had offered nearly two hours of testimony about the events of October 4, 1984.
That night, Seccuro, a 17-year-old first year student, had accompanied a male friend to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house for a party. In an upstairs room, Seccuro testified, she accepted a drink called the "house special" from two fraternity brothers. Soon after drinking a small amount of the "tart, sour in a citrusy way" drink, however, Seccuro testified she began to feel "immobilized, like a marionette."
Though Seccuro has previously said she did not remember talking to Beebe, then a second-year student who was pledging the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, she testified that she now remembers spending some time making "very brief small talk" with him in an upstairs room. Beebe, she testified, seemed "intoxicated, extremely so."
During that conversation, Seccuro testified, Beebe "grabbed me by my arm and led me down the hall toward a room" where he eventually lifted her onto his lap and began to read poetry.
Seccuro testified that she freed herself and fled into the hallway to try to retrieve her purse from a nearby bedroom where a friend had passed out. Seccuro says the door had been padlocked from the outside. "I began screaming and kicking the door," she testified, but two men (one of whom she believes was Beebe) carried her back to Beebe's room.
Seccuro testified that Beebe quickly shut the door and turned out the lights. "He proceeded to very swiftly take my clothes off," she said.
She testified that Beebe threw her on the bed and raped her. "He was extremely forceful," testified Seccuro, who choked up at times during her testimony. "Because I was a virgin, he was having a difficult time," she testified.
Seccuro says she lost consciousness sometime during the attack and that the next morning, she awoke on a sofa, naked, wrapped in a blood-stained sheet.
During her testimony– which covered events inside the fraternity house– Beebe silently watched Seccuro without expression. Seccuro, looked directly at Beebe only once, when asked to identify her assailant. She visibly shuddered.
"If you have been raped, you know that you never forget your rapist's eyes," she said after the hearing. "That's where I didn't want to look."
Though Quagliana sought at times to point out discrepancies in Seccuro's testimony based on a University Journal article written in November 1984, Berry sustained Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman's objections that it had not been established that the article using the pseudonym "Kate" was actually about Seccuro, and so he did not allow Quagliana's cross examination on that subject.
Both Chapman and Quagliana declined comment for this article.
Although Seccuro says she felt shaken by some of Quagliana's questioning, she says it should be understandable that she may not remember every detail of an event from 22 years ago.
"There are going to be some places where I simply don't know," says Seccuro. "Do I recall the rape itself? Of course I do."
Seccuro's husband, who at times during her testimony covered his face with his hands and rocked back and forth, says watching his wife testify was painful.
"I can't imagine how difficult it was for her," he said afterwards. "It was difficult for me in that I wanted to do it for her if I could."
But Seccuro's sorority sisters say that while they worry about Seccuro, if anyone can handle the stress of a rape trial, she can.
"She's one of the strongest people I've ever met," says Wade.
A grand jury will consider the case April 17.
Walking the one block from the courthouse to his attorney's office after the March 24 hearing, accused rapist William Beebe remained silent.