November 15, 2006
Criminal defense attorneys and victim's advocates are reacting to news that a man who sexually assaulted a UVa student decades ago, may spend less than two years in prison for the crime.
Tuesday, William Beebe entered into a plea agreement with the state. Prosecutors are recommending a two year sentence for sexually assaulting Liz Seccuro in 1984. Now we ask: Does the punishment fit the crime?
“Two years it does seem like it minimizes the act,” said Claire Kaplan, director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at the UVa Women’s Center.
Yet defense attorneys say this was a complicated case. More than 22 years had passed since the rape occurred.
“Time often works to the advantage of the defendant,” said Attorney Steven Rosenfield.
And it may have in this case with prosecutors settling on a two year recommended sentence. Victims advocates say its better than nothing.
“She's getting more than a lot of people do,” said Kaplan.
Often, people get away with rape because women don't report the crime or the justice system fails them.
William Beebe too might have gotten away with it had not his conscious gotten the better of him. The recovering alcoholic started the process that led to his guilty plea when he wrote Liz Seccuro an apology letter last year. However, defense attorneys believe that remorse could have played in his favor.
“Somebody who disregards and cares little about the victim would be treated more harshly,” said Rosenfield.
Beebe's plea let's Securro avoid the pain of testifying at trial. As she said on Tuesday, she has to live with this for the rest of her life.
“I think the idea of closure for any victim of a sexual assault is not reality,” said Securro, outside the courthouse Tuesday.
“Their sense of trust, their sense of self as whole human beings is damaged and they may never get it back. In one act that's done. So how does two years or for that matter 20 years get that back; it doesn't,” said Kaplan.
In this case, punishment was a compromise.
“When you have a compromise it’s thought that neither party is satisfied,” said Rosenfield.
The two year recommended sentence was out of a possible 20 years. However, had Beebe taken his chances with a jury he could have faced as much as two life sentences.
It’s important to note that Beebe won’t be formally sentenced until March 15th, 2007. At sentencing, a judge could impose a higher penalty for Beebe. If he does, Beebe would then have the chance to withdraw his plea and request a trial.