Deliberations begin in New Hampshire prep school rape trial
CONCORD, N.H. – Jurors deliberating the fate of a former prep school senior charged with raping a freshman were left to decide Thursday who was more credible: the defendant, who credited "divine inspiration" with helping him end their escalating sexual encounter, or the accuser, who couldn't recall telling a friend what sex acts she was prepared to perform.
Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, faces six sexual assault charges, three of them felonies, over his encounter last year with the 15-year-old girl in the attic of a near-deserted building at St. Paul's School. Prosecutors say the encounter happened when Labrie was 18 years old as part of Senior Salute, a school tradition of sexual conquest in which seniors try to romance or have sex with underclassmen before graduation.
Jurors deliberated about 3 1/2 hours Thursday after hearing closing arguments and instructions from the judge. They are scheduled to return Friday morning.
Labrie contends he and the girl had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse on May 30, 2014, two days before his graduation.
Labrie's lawyer, J.W. Carney, told the jury the girl testified she had no recollection of her conversation with her best friend before meeting Labrie because to admit she stated graphically what conduct she was prepared to engage in "would destroy the whole image she'd been trying to create."
"If you conclude she was not being truthful then I submit it taints her entire testimony," Carney said. "In order to put forward this story, she was willing to tell a lie about a critical fact right in front of you."
Prosecutor Joseph Cherniske said the girl's expectations before her encounter with Labrie don't matter.
"Does that mean she can't change her mind?" he asked. "We're here because (she) said no."
Both lawyers also took aim at the culture of the school and Senior Salute, with the prosecutor stressing Labrie told police participants "take great pride in taking the virginity of younger students." Carney said Senior Salute led to the "tragedy that befell both these kids."
The case has cast a critical light on St. Paul's, which boasts as alumni an international roster of senators, congressmen, ambassadors, Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates and other notables, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Labrie acknowledged Wednesday that he bragged to his friends he and the girl had sex and he had to use "every trick in the book" for it to happen. He said it was a lie he told to seem cool.
Cherniske told jurors Labrie, now 19, was boasting about what he had done, not lying.
Cherniske said the girl, now 16, didn't report the rape for several days because she didn't want to disrupt her sister's graduation and because she "thought she could handle it all."
"She thought she could handle going with an 18-year-old boy for a Senior Salute," Cherniske said. "She thought she could say no by holding onto her clothing and saying no and make it stop."
The girl testified she twice told Labrie "no" during their encounter and she felt "frozen" when he persisted. She acknowledged on cross-examination she helped Labrie remove her shirt and pants and didn't protest because she didn't want to be offensive.
A police detective testified Labrie told her he halted their escalating sexual contact that night during a moment of "divine inspiration."
The prosecutor scoffed at that claim, saying it defied common sense. He said Labrie had a plan that night to have sex with the girl.
"It was calculated. He brought a blanket. He brought a condom," the prosecutor said. "Not even a girl holding onto her underwear was going to stop him."
But Carney pointed to breezy emails exchanged between Labrie and the girl after their encounter as evidence the girl wasn't raped. The girl testified that she kept their conversation light to ascertain whether he'd worn a condom.
Labrie acknowledged Wednesday that he asked the girl whether she was on birth control after she asked if he used a condom. He said he was concerned some sperm might have gotten on her underwear as their sexual encounter escalated.
On cross-examination, he said he never told detectives about ejaculating during the encounter because it was "embarrassing."
The girl left the courtroom in tears Wednesday as Labrie began reading from messages they exchanged before they met up. In one exchange, the girl says Labrie's plan to meet "sounds perfect."