Sometimes “Sorry” Is Not Enough

George Washington’s birthday always reminds me of the grade-school story of his childhood confession. “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” Was L’il Georgy whipped? Not on your life… no, sir. He was commended for his forthright honesty.
The common wisdom among human resource directors and employment lawyers has it that a quick, sincere apology is the best way to spike a potential sexual-harassment lawsuit. This HR lore is laden with sound logic. Sometimes, though, an offense is just too serious to be wiped out with an apology, no matter how sincere.
Such is the case of William Beebe, 42, who pleaded guilty recently to one count of “aggravated sexual battery” for his 1984 attack on then-college co-ed Liz Seccuro. The victim passed out, after downing a drink at a fraternity party. She later left the University of Virginia frat house and reported the attack to both campus police and a dean. Although she claims to recall Beebe being involved in assaulting her, neither he nor any of his fraternity brothers were ever arrested.
Time passed. Fast forward to 2005. Beebe, now living in Las Vegas, mounted the ninth step of the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program. Step nine calls for the recovering alcoholic to make amends to those he’s harmed. Beebe fired off a letter and then exchanged emails with Seccuro. In one he wrote, “I want to make clear that I’m not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did.”
Another snippet of folk wisdom says, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” Perhaps so… but I wonder if William Congreve, who put this line in a 1697 poem, ever considered the fury of a woman raped. Seccuro told the media she forgives Beebe, but an apology is no substitute for a stiff punishment. The attack, she said, dramatically changed her life. I’m sure it did.
Virginia has no felony statute of limitations. After Seccuro shared the letter and emails with the Charlottesville PD, Beebe was arrested in Vegas and extradited to Virginia, where prosecutors initially wanted to try him with rape, setting their sights on a life sentence. They permitted Beebe to enter a plea to the lesser-included count when new evidence indicated he wasn’t the only frat guy to participate in the assault. Charlottesville Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire sentenced Beebe to 10 years, but suspended all but 18 months of the sentence in exchange for 500 hours of community- service work in the form of alcohol and date-rape training on college campuses.
I wonder whether in the dead of night William Beebe wishes he’d never ‘fessed up to Ms Seccuro. I hope not. His breast-beating released a rare breath of fresh air into our society of whiners, finger-pointers, and just-plain liars.
Scooter Libby and Alberto Gonzales are only the most recent in a long phalanx of politicos caught in blatant lies. As Senator Hilary Clinton makes her run for the White House, we all can recall her husband’s claims that not only had he never inhaled, but he hadn’t laid a hand on Monica Lewinski either. Another disturbing, recent revelation, that was covered by this column, is that back around the same time that Mr. Beebe was raping Ms. Seccuro, Chief Justice William Rehnquist was covering up his addiction to pain killers.
In wrestling with his conscience over Beebe’s sentence, Judge Hogshire asked, “Is he remorseful,” and concluded, “I think so.” So do I. That’s more than can be said for AG Gonzales.
Some sins, as Liz Seccuro says, demand more than an apology. William Beebe knows that now. So does Mr. Libby. So, too, will Mr. Gonzales, I predict. As for Mr. And Mrs. Clinton… well, they ain’t quite George and Martha, are they?

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