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As plea deadline arrives, defense says St. Paul’s rape suspect headed for trial

Last modified: 8/1/2015 12:46:32 AM
On the eve of a final plea deadline, the lawyer for a St. Paul’s graduate accused of raping an underclassman last year said they plan to go to trial.

“We expect that this case will be resolved by a jury,” said J.W. Carney, the prized Boston attorney now representing Owen Labrie.

Labrie, 19, of Tunbridge, Vt., is scheduled for a pretrial hearing this morning in Merrimack County Superior Court. It’s his last chance to strike a plea bargain with county prosecutors. Jury selection is otherwise set to begin Aug. 17.

Labrie is charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault, an offense typically punishable by between 10 and 20 years in prison. He last appeared in court in March, when prosecutors claimed he had violated his bail conditions by soliciting money from students’ families and faculty to hire Carney, his third official attorney in the case.

Authorities claim Labrie forced himself on a 15-year-old freshman in an on-campus building May 30, 2014, two days before graduation. He later turned himself in to police and has since denied the accusations. The case was scheduled for trial in May, but was delayed by Carney’s arrival in March.

Prosecutors filed a slew of last-minute court motions this week, including a request to introduce statements by the alleged victim to a trauma nurse at Concord Hospital four days after the incident. They also hope to call an unnamed expert to testify about symptoms commonly found in victims of sexual assault.

The defense has yet to respond; it filed no new motions by end of day Thursday, according to court clerks. If Carney disputes the expert testimony request, he could ask that the trial be continued, though Judge Larry Smukler has previously said he is reluctant to grant another extension in the case.

Carney declined to comment beyond his initial trial remark.

The trial will likely take several days. Prosecutors have identified 38 potential witnesses, including the alleged victim, who is no longer attending St. Paul’s. Several faculty members and students are also listed, one of whom allegedly spoke with the girl minutes after the alleged attack. Others are likely to describe a now-notorious annual tradition in which seniors compete to have sex with underclassmen.

One witness is a 16-year-old girl who has said Labrie was “sexually aggressive” toward her on a date, according to a filing from prosecutors.

Labrie, an accomplished student athlete who had planned to attend Harvard last fall, told police he knew of the competition, but did not take part.

Even if no plea agreement is reached today, both parties are expected in court to structure the trial. Lead prosecutor Catherine Ruffle could ask that the jury view the school before hearing testimony. She declined on Thursday to discuss the case.

Labrie cycled through at least two other attorneys before retaining Carney, who is widely known for his defense of mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger. Labrie’s original counsel, Jim Moir, recused himself last fall, citing a breakdown in communication. Labrie was also working unofficially with a New York lawyer named Gordon 

His last attorney, Michael Ramsdell, asked the court in February to suppress statements Labrie purportedly made during interviews with police weeks before his arrest. Carney later withdrew the motion.

According to affidavits detailing those talks, Labrie conceded that he had taken the girl to a secluded attic in the school’s Lindsay Center for Mathematics and Science, and that he later put on a condom. But he repeatedly insisted that he stopped there, one of the interviewers wrote.

“I was in no position to take advantage of this young girl,” Labrie said, according to the affidavit. “I understood my position and I stayed true to course.”

St. Paul’s has not commented on the Labrie case, but Rector Michael Hirschfeld did notify parents last year of several changes meant to curb the school’s “hook-up” culture.

In August, he said the school had officially banned sexual solicitation and games involving sexual conquest, and would bring in anti-bullying specialists to work with staff and students. He also said the school planned to implement a new bystander training program.

The school was thrust back into the spotlight this spring when another graduating senior was arrested and accused of intentionally burning his girlfriend’s leg in January. That case, involving four Class A misdemeanors, is also set for trial next month, on Aug. 18 in Concord’s district court.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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