William Beebe had been haunted by that night for years.
He'd tried to send the letter before _ and failed. Just like he'd failed to stick with rehab for alcoholism. Just like he'd failed at so much in life.
This time, he was staying with a 12-step program run by Alcoholics Anonymous. But should he really take that treacherous ninth step?
It told him to make amends to those he'd hurt _ unless doing so would injure them further.
Some had warned him to leave it alone. But he'd prayed on it.
And so, he began to write.
"You got a letter," Mike Seccuro said, tossing an envelope onto his wife Liz's lap as he climbed behind the wheel of their minivan.
Who lives in Vegas? she wondered briefly of the postmark before her eyes stopped on the sender's name.
She froze. It was a name she had not uttered in 20 years.
Her body suddenly felt cold, her brain fuzzy. With shaking hands, she opened the envelope.
"Dear Elizabeth," the letter began. "In 1984 I harmed you."
She was Liz Schimpf then, a 17-year-old blonde from the New York suburbs, just a few weeks into her first year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
She was given a green concoction at a fraternity house party. What happened next in the early morning of Oct. 5, 1984, remains unclear. This is what she remembers:
The drink made her feel strange and panicky.
William Beebe, a student she didn't know, dragged her to his room. He pulled her onto his lap, kissed her neck, her ear.
Repelled, she pulled free and bolted from the room.
"HELP ME!" she screamed.
A fraternity member pushed her back. Beebe tore off her clothes and threw her on the bed.
She was a virgin. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
His weight was crushing, his smell a nauseating mix of alcohol and sweat. She fought him, clamped her legs shut. He pried them open.
The pain was blinding. She couldn't breathe.
She passed out. After that, she vaguely remembers movement, voices, touching.
In the minivan, Seccuro was crying so hard her frightened daughter began to wail.
"I can scarcely begin to understand the degree to which, through your eyes, my behavior has affected you in its wake," Beebe wrote. "Still, I stand prepared to hear from you about just how, and in what ways you've been affected, and to begin to set right the wrong I've done."
Over the next week, she felt afraid and vulnerable, overwhelmed by questions. Finally, she grabbed her BlackBerry.
"How can you live with yourself?" she typed.
He e-mailed back the next day.
"I always felt tremendous guilt for the ways in which I imagined my conduct had damaged you, and for years too the only solution seemed to be the bottle, which worked less and less over time," he wrote. "This is to say that the way that I lived with myself was of course not really living at all.
"It appears I have laid the groundwork for a shattered life, and I simply do not know what to do, save for doing what you ask."
But Seccuro didn't know what to do either. Yet she wanted to know why he had done it and wrote back. So began a two-month e-mail correspondence. Seccuro told Beebe of the devastating effects of his actions; Beebe detailed the devastating effects of the bottle.
After that night in 1984, Seccuro was never the same. She reported the attack to university officials and campus police, but immediately felt she wasn't believed.
She became a loner. Her grades plummeted. At 22, she entered a tumultuous marriage that quickly unraveled. Part of her felt dead. She suffered panic attacks.
Gradually, life improved. She married Mike, gave birth to beautiful Ava, and found success as an event planner in Connecticut.
But she never stopped wondering what had become of him.
His life, too, had been filled with miseries, he wrote. After that night, he was summoned to the dean's office and told of possible judicial proceedings.
"A day or so later I withdrew from UVA," he wrote.
Drinking was already a problem. He entered rehab, but a month later he was drinking again. Over the next nine years, he wrote, he exhausted his parents, employers and friends. Women dismissed him as a drunken, selfish slob.
He came to Alcoholics Anonymous in 1993 and managed to stay with the rehab program. From the moment he read AA's eighth step _ making a list of those he'd harmed _ he wanted to contact Seccuro. But his sponsor said that would only hurt her.
Then his sponsor went back to drink, and a new one agreed he should search for Seccuro. Twice he wrote her, but the addresses were wrong, the letters returned. Eventually, he tried again to achieve the ninth step _ make amends.
Seccuro read Beebe's e-mails with growing unease. Was this apology meant to help her _ or him?
Her skepticism grew when they broached the topic of what happened that night in 1984.
"Were you my only attacker?" she asked. "I clearly have an impression of this being either a gang rape or a 'spectator sport' for the rushees."
Beebe's account was disturbingly different from hers; he suggested he persuaded her to stay in his room rather than walk home late at night.
"We started to make out in my room a while," he continued. "There was no fight and it was all over in short order. When we awoke in the morning it was still chilly out, so I lent you my jean jacket, and you walked home."
"There were no other men present. I was the only one."
There was certainly a fight that night, Seccuro responded angrily. She awoke wrapped in a bloody sheet, then walked to the emergency room.
"I thought after all this time, you realized you had raped me and were apologizing," she wrote. "I trusted that your apology came from a good and honest place and I see this is not the case."
What most bothered her was how he seemed to avoid using the word rape, but then Beebe responded.
"I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you," he wrote.
Seccuro felt confused and drained.
A few days later, she stumbled across a Web site dedicated to victims of rape at the University of Virginia. She was floored: the problem suddenly seemed bigger than her own.
Minutes later, she left a message with Charlottesville police.
On Jan. 4, 2006, Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas. There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Virginia, and with Beebe's written confession, it seemed an open and shut case.
Except Beebe, facing possible life in prison, suddenly denied raping Seccuro.
She couldn't believe they were headed for a trial. Then she got another shock. She began receiving critical e-mails and letters, many from Christians condemning her for pressing charges, admonishing her to forgive.
But she HAD forgiven Beebe. Couldn't she forgive and still want justice?
Her panic attacks returned. She suffered a miscarriage while nervously awaiting Beebe's arrest. It seemed Beebe was hurting her again. And could she forgive him for that?
On April 17, Beebe was charged with rape. Seven months later, he pleaded guilty _ but to a lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery. The prosecutor recommended a sentence of two years in prison.
Why had authorities agreed to a plea bargain? It became apparent when the prosecutor dropped the bombshell: Investigators believed Seccuro was gang raped.
Seccuro had long suspected it. And prosecutors knew Beebe's cooperation could be key in bringing other possible attackers to justice. He is free on bond, and his help to authorities will be considered when he is sentenced March 15.
Outside the courthouse, Beebe made a statement: "Twenty-two years ago, I harmed another person. ... I have tried to set that right."
Seccuro has launched a fund to raise money for rape victims. Some people still tell her to accept Beebe's apology, but she feels forgiveness isn't so simple. She cannot forgive those who knew about or witnessed the events that night and remained silent. Nor can she forgive the university.
For Seccuro, forgiveness was never the issue. She sees it this way:
The apology was for him. Justice is for her.
William Beebe had been haunted by that night for years.