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Owen Labrie not guilty on most serious charges: Daily updates from the St. Paul’s rape case

Last modified: 8/28/2015 2:18:16 PM
Former St. Paul’s School student Owen Labrie was found not guilty Friday of the most serious sexual assault charges he faced during a two-week trial, but guilty of several lesser crimes.

A jury found Labrie guilty of having sex with a minor and using a computer to lure her. The girl was 15 and a freshman at the elite prep school at the time.

Throughout the trial Labrie has maintained he did not have sex with the girl, while she testified he forced himself on her after she told him to stop.

The sexual assault was part of a tradition at the school known as the “senior salute,” where seniors try to sleep with underclassmen before graduation.

The girl’s family called the verdict, “a measure of justice.”

“While he was not convicted on all charges, Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter. This conviction requires him to take ownership for his actions and gives him the opportunity to reflect upon the harm he has caused,” the family said in a statement. “There is no joy in this outcome, however, as our daughter can never get back what she has lost nor can St. Paul’s School ever be our community again.”

Labrie will be sentenced at a later date and will need to register as a sex offender.

Thursday 8/27

Jurors have begun deliberating in the trial of Owen Labrie, the former St. Paul’s School student accused of raping a 15-year-old freshman.

Closing arguments were presented Thursday morning in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Labrie, 19, of Tunbridge, Vt., is accused of forcing himself on the girl last year, during the weekend of graduation. Prosecutors claim he was taking part in a notorious annual tradition known as “Senior Salute,” in which graduating students proposition younger schoolmates, sometimes for sex. Labrie says they never had sex, and that the limited physical contact they did have was consensual.

On Thursday, prosecutors focused on the credibility of Labrie’s account, and the girl’s insistence that she resisted his sexual advances.

“She told him no three times,” said Assistant County Attorney Joe Cherniske. “She said keep it up here. She held the bra as he tried to take it off. She held her underwear as he tried to take those off. She pulled his head up, away from her vagina, as he tried to perform oral sex. She froze.”

Cherniske also underscored a series of crude remarks Labrie made to friends, and said the sequence of events he testified to Wednesday didn’t add up.

“His story is that an 18-year-old man, who tells his friends he wants to pork a girl, puts her on a list of girls he wants to slay, finds a way to spend time with her…, got her to take her clothes off, kissed the area between her thighs and her vagina while she wrapped her legs around him — they’re rolling around on the ground, she’s caressing his back, he puts on a condom and then, ‘divine inspiration,’” Cherniske said, referencing a comment Labrie made during police questioning. “It’s not a believable story.”

The defense, meanwhile, flipped questions of credibility to the girl, noting that she claimed on the stand that she could not remember telling a close friend before the encounter that she expected to engage in sexual acts with Labrie.

“Some things you say you don’t forget,” Carney said.

He said the girl had motive to lie, involving an older relative at the school who had briefly dated Labrie and remained friendly with him.

Carney opened his remarks by describing both Labrie and the accuser as victims, and laying the blame on school officials.

“St. Paul’s played that role of parents and St. Paul’s School failed the children with their attitude toward senior salute,” said lead defense attorney J.W. Carney. “The idea of Senior Salute is shocking. It damages children, and in this case it damaged both (the accuser) and Owen.”

Wednesday 8/26

With ease and apparent conviction, the former St. Paul’s School student accused of raping a freshman girl last year flatly denied on Wednesday that he and his accuser ever had sex, or that he penetrated her in any way.

“It wouldn’t have been the right choice for me,” said Owen Labrie, 19, as his defense began presenting their case in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Labrie, an honors student, soccer captain and and appointed leader at the elite Concord prep school, is charged with nine criminal counts, including felonious sexual assault. The girl, now 16, alleges he forced sex on her during a furtive campus rendezvous two days before graduation. Testifying last week, she said she told Labrie no at least twice, and that she otherwise froze as he moved on past consensual kissing, occasionally letting out nervous laughter.

But Wednesday morning, Labrie outlined a slightly different account for jurors, one in which the two teens engaged in mutual foreplay and physical contact, but stopped just short of sex. Labrie claimed he went so far as to retrieve a condom from his wallet and put it on, but then restrained himself while walking back to the girl.

“I thought, maybe we shouldn’t do this,” he said, responding to questions from his lead attorney, J.W. Carney.

Labrie insisted that the girl’s underwear never came off, and that no part of his body penetrated hers. He said he quickly dressed and forgot to remove the condom, later remembering it and discovering what appeared to be some premature ejaculate around its edges. It’s possible that some could have come in contact with the girl’s underwear, he added, a response to testimony Tuesday that unidentified sperm was found on the girl’s garment.

The evening — May 30, 2014 — had started promisingly, Labrie said. He and the girl had known each other over the year, in passing, and she had agreed to accompany him for a walk, part of an annual ritual among seniors to proposition younger students, for walks, kissing or more. They met around 9:15 and snuck onto the roof of the Lindsay Center for Mathematics and Science. The view was “beautiful,” Labrie recalled, but the conditions damp, so they moved back inside, to the attic. They explored, he said, the girl, then 15, using her smart phone as a flashlight.

“We started to kiss,” Labrie said. “She giggled. I giggled.”

“I thought she was having a great time,” he later added.

After the encounter ended, Labrie said, he left alone, stopped briefly at an a cappella concert, then returned to his dorm, to what he called surprise praise from younger dorm-mates.

“They were holding up their hands with high-fives” and saying, “‘We heard you did it. We heard you boned,’” Labrie said.

His testimony continues this afternoon.

Tuesday 8/25

Attorneys in the rape trial of Owen Labrie spent Tuesday morning scrutinizing a pair of police interviews last last summer with the then-18-year-old suspect. Prosecutors highlighted inconsistencies in the St. Paul’s School student’s account, while the defense reiterated that he never wavered in his denial, despite hours of intensive, unaccompanied questioning.

Labrie, who is accused of forcing sex on a 15-year-old freshman girl, agreed to both conversations, one of which was conducted on the phone, and the other primarily at the Concord Police Department. He acknowledged having an encounter with the girl, but insisted repeatedly that it was consensual and had stopped short of sex.

“Her underwear never came off, that’s just a fact, ” Det. Julie Curtin recalled Labrie saying, adding that he noted her age and his position as an appointed student leader.

But Curtin said Labrie rambled when asked whether the girl was lying when she claimed they had sex, going from “that’s what a lot of people thought” to “I don’t know” to “I don’t think she would” and thinking she “would have my back.”

Labrie later voluntarily turned over scores of Facebook messages between him and the girl.

Monday 8/24

Three current and former St. Paul’s School students testified Monday in the rape trial of Owen Labrie, each claiming that the 19-year-old graduate boasted about his encounter afterward, telling one that he “had sex” with the accuser and another that he “boned her.”

One, a friend of Labrie’s who convinced the then-15-year-old girl to meet with him as part of a springtime tradition among graduating students called “Senior Salute,” said Labrie admitted to him privately afterward that he and the girl had intercourse, and recalled him cheekily intoning as much to other male students.

“He said no but nodded his head yes,” the friend testified, describing a conversation at his dorm between Labrie and a group of male students on the night of the alleged assault — May 30, 2014.

The friend also read messages for jurors that Labrie reportedly sent him when he convinced the girl to see Labrie, after initially rebuffing his invitation.

“You’re a f—ing dog,” the message said, according to his reading. “I will owe you 10,000 BJs.”

The two other witnesses, each friends of Labrie’s who have each since graduated from the elite Concord prep school, recounted other arguably crude remarks involving Labrie. One, a 2013 graduate, said he and Labrie helped start a private Facebook group after he left called “Slayers Anonymous,” as a way to stay in touch.

In one exchange, four months before the encounter, the graduate asked Labrie, “Who do you want to cork more than anyone, bro?” Labrie responded with the alleged victim’s name.

The third witness, Labrie’s former roommate, said he had warned Labrie that the girl was “a lot younger,” but that Labrie met with her anyway, and that afterward he told the roommate he had “boned her,” without elaborating. Prosecutors have charged that the Labrie and the roommate were in a competition to have sexual relations with younger students that spring, a claim the roommate denied on the stand.

The defense, facing a barrage of unflattering remarks about their client on the fourth day of testimony in his trial, tried to put his language in context, noting that vulgarity is common at St. Paul’s and high schools everywhere, and that teenage boys often joke and embellish about their sexual experience — or lack thereof.

Friday 8/21

No trial.

Thursday 8/20

As they kissed, she lifted her arms to help him remove her shirt. He lay a blanket down on the cold, hard floor and she let him gently guide her to it. She did not protest as he pulled down her pants, instead raising her hips to make it even easier for him. At least once, she laughed.

During tense cross-examination Thursday morning in Concord, the defense in the rape trial of Owen Labrie worked to chip away at his accuser’s claims that she clearly rejected his physical advances last year at St. Paul’s School, and that their encounter started, and progressed, as aggressively as she has let on.

The girl, now 16, has accused the graduate of forcing himself on her last May as part of an annual tradition among outgoing seniors to spend time with younger students, at least occasionally to engage in sexual acts. Labrie, 19, denies they had sex, and claims the contact they did have was consensual.

The defense spent much of the morning countering the girl’s emotional testimony from Wednesday, in which she recounted in vivid detail the physical and emotional pain of the encounter. She said she expected nothing more than kissing, and that she told Labrie “no” as he became more aggressive, going so far as to hold her underwear up as he tried to pull it down. She laughed, she admitted, but mostly out of fear of offending a popular older student.

But picking up where he left off Wednesday afternoon, Labrie’s attorney, Jay Carney, suggested that the girl had expected some sexual contact. He noted that she appeared to have prepared for it the night before, hygienically, and that she told a close friend before seeing Labrie that she would probably let him penetrate her digitally, and “at most” perform oral sex on him.

The girl has said she does not recall telling the friend that, and noted that, regardless, Labrie’s actions were unwanted at the time.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday 8/19

A former student at St. Paul’s School described in graphic detail on Wednesday the night last year when a popular upperclassman is accused of raping her in a dark, secluded room on campus, recalling, “At that moment, I really had no idea what was going on.”

At times dabbing at tears, at others appearing fully composed, the 16-year-old told a prosecutor that she had agreed to accompany the student, Owen Labrie, to a restricted rooftop for a view and possibly a kiss, “but that’s all.”

Labrie, then-18 and two days from graduation, guided her back inside, she said, and began removing her clothing. She claims he then forced sex on her, despite at least one verbal dissent, and that at one point he laughingly brushed off her pleas, calling her “a tease.”

“If I just had been able to do something, push or do something, I could have stopped him,” she said, her voice shuttering. “I could have stopped him.”

Her account, on the second day of testimony in Labrie’s trial for aggravated sexual assault, presented a starkly different side of the graduate, who was an accomplished student-athlete during his tenure at St. Paul’s and who had planned to attend Harvard last fall. Labrie has insisted that the encounter was consensual and that they never had intercourse. His defense has yet to cross-examine the alleged victim.

For nearly three hours on Wednesday, the girl recounted the sequence of events that night — May 30, 2014 — describing in painstaking detail everything from the temperature of the floor to the sound of the machines whirring around her.

“I looked at the machine above my head — the pipe or whatever it was above my head — and I tried to focus on the noise around me,” she said of the moments during the assault. “I tried not to think about it, because I said this would be over soon. Just wait it out.”

Labrie’s attorney, Jay Carney, told jurors on Tuesday that electronic messages sent between the two students in the hours before and after the encounter suggest the girl was a willing participant, that she wanted to have sex, and that Labrie, not her, was the one who cut the rendezvous short.

On Wednesday, the girl said she had sounded cordial in the messages so as not to offend Labrie, or come off as inexperienced.

“I didn’t want to be weak,” she said. “I wanted control, in a situation where I’d completely lost control.”

The Monitor and several other news outlets are withholding the girl’s name.

Tuesday 8/18

Was she willing? Did they actually have sex?

Lawyers for both sides asked jurors to consider those two questions as the trial of Owen Labrie, the 19-year-old St. Paul’s School graduate accused of raping an underclassman last year as part of a notorious school tradition, opened Tuesday in Concord.

Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vt., is accused of sexually assaulting the then-freshman girl in an off-limits room on campus two days before graduation. The girl claims the encounter began agreeably, but that she told Labrie to stop when it escalated towards sex.

“She will testify that this was not consensual, that it was not okay,” Deputy County Attorney Catherine Ruffle told jurors in an opening statement. “She will tell you she did not know how to handle the situation beyond that point. She was a 15-year-old girl without sexual experience. She tried to say no. She tried to use her physical conduct to indicate to him that this was not consensual. But beyond that she couldn’t find the words to end this situation.”

Ruffle said Labrie tried to remove the girls underwear, and that she held them up with both hands while saying, “Let’s keep it up here.”

Labrie’s attorney, Jay Carney, countered that electronic messages sent between the two students in the hours before and after the encounter suggest the girl was a willing participant, that she wanted to have sex, and that Labrie, not her, was the one who prevented the exchange from progressing.

“The evidence will show that Owen’s boxers never came off,” Carney said, adding that Labrie plans to testify during the trial. “That (the girl’s) bra never came off. That (her) underwear never came off.”

The Monitor and several other news outlets are withholding the girl’s name.

Under New Hampshire law, juries can convict a person of sexual assault based solely on the testimony of the alleged victim. Ruffle noted, however, that there is physical evidence in this case: a rape test that showed vaginal abrasions that “could be” consistent with intercourse, and the girl’s underwear, which was tested days after the encounter and had semen on it. Though the semen cannot be traced to Labrie, Ruffle said, the girl insists she did not have sex with anyone else at the time.

The rendezvous occurred May 30, two days before Labrie’s graduation from the prestigious boarding school. A revered student-athlete and appointed dorm leader, he had planned to attend Harvard last fall and study theology.

Jurors will tour the site of the alleged assault – a restricted upstairs maintenance area of the Lindsay Center for Mathematics and Science – Tuesday afternoon, after which prosecutors will call their first witnesses. The alleged victim, now 16, is expected to take the stand.

The case has attracted a frenzy of attention from national media in recent days, and reporters lined the galley in Merrimack County Superior Court as jurors were seated and read the 11 criminal charges, including four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. As they were sworn in, Labrie, who has been out on bail since his arrest, stood tall in a gray tweed suit jacket.

Labrie remained silent throughout the morning’s proceedings, averting eye-contact with jurors or Ruffle as she ticked through the alleged crimes.

“This is the face of Owen Labrie that you’re going to see over the next few days,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “It’s probably not the face of an individual you think of when you think of sexual assault. But when you see and hear the evidence that the state presents, we believe that you’re going to see a different side of the defendant.”

Related stories:

Day 7: Deliberations begin in sex assault case involving St. Paul’s School students

Day 6: St. Paul’s grad Owen Labrie testifies in rape trial, denies having sex with girl

Day 6: Ray Duckler: This rape trial makes you wonder: where did we go wrong?

Day 5: Prosecutors rest in St. Paul’s rape case; Owen Labrie expected to testify

Day 4: Ex-classmates testify that St. Paul’s grad Owen Labrie boasted about encounter

Day 3: Defense cross-examines accuser in St. Paul’s rape case

Day 2: Teen accuser describes alleged St. Paul’s rape; defense questions her then-intentions

Day 1: Prosecution portrays different side of Owen Labrie as St. Paul’s trial gets under way

Prosecutors claim St. Paul’s student shared list of potential hookups before alleged assault

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


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