CONCORD, NH– A jury has convicted Owen Labrie of five counts in connection with the alleged rape of another student at a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school. At the time, the accuser was 15 and he was 18. Labrie, who was accused of nine counts related to the allegations, has since graduated. He was found guilty of three charges of sexual assault as a misdemeanor, a charge of using a computer to solicit a minor to commit an offense related to sexual assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.
The jury, made up of nine men and three women, deliberated for 7½ hours.
The jury of nine men and three women deliberated about three hours Thursday — one day after Labrie, with his accuser watching in the courtroom, took the stand and described the encounter last year as consensual. He said the two of them sneaked into an attic room in a St. Paul’s School academic building a few days before graduation and together spread a flannel blanket Labrie had brought with him.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Joseph Cherniske told the jury Thursday that the defendant carefully planned out a sexual assault and viewed the taking of the girl’s virginity as a source of pride.
“It wasn’t the school’s fault,” he said, rebutting the defense argument that St. Paul’s encouraged a tradition known as the “Senior Salute” in which seniors sought to have sexual encounters with younger students.
Defense attorney J.W. Carney accused St. Paul’s of allowing the “Senior Salute” to flourish.
“The idea that you would wink at a tradition that ‘Senior Salute’ represents is shocking,” he said, denying that his client sexually penetrated the girl.
“It damages children and in this case it damaged both (the accuser) and Owen,” he said. “When you saw the culture of St. Paul’s, it was one that encouraged, I submit, the concept of ‘Senior Salute.’ In fact, it was so revered on the campus it became a tradition.”
The trial has brought unwanted attention to the elite school, the alma mater of Secretary of State John Kerry and half a dozen congressmen.
On Wednesday, Labrie testified that sweatshirts, shirts and later pants were removed but the two kept their underwear on.
When a defense attorney asked about their demeanor, Labrie testified they were both giggling and smiling and that the girl held him in an affectionate way.
“I thought she was having a great time,” he said.
Labrie, 18 at the time, said that he may have gotten carried away at times, leading to bruises she reported on her breasts. They were both aroused, he said, so he went to put a condom on, but he stopped himself.
“I thought I was going to have sex with this girl,” he said, but after getting the condom, he testified, he changed his mind.
“It wouldn’t have been a good move to have sex with this girl,” he told the court. “It would not have been a good choice for me to make.”
The liaison awkwardly ended after a few more brief kisses, and Labrie hurried to a choir concert, he said.
The accuser, now 16, testified last week that Labrie penetrated her with his fingers before raping her.
“I was raped!” she said when a defense attorney suggested she had sent conflicting signals to the defendant.
On Wednesday, the defense depicted Labrie as a great student, on a full scholarship, who wanted to attend Harvard, take divinity classes and perhaps become a minister.
The prosecution repeatedly questioned him about telling friends after the encounter that he had sex with the girl.
He was bragging and lying, Labrie told the court.
He also said for the first time that his boxers were damp and he may have ejaculated on them before he put on a condom. He didn’t tell police about it, he said, because their questions focused on whether the two had sex.
On Tuesday, state criminalist Katie Swango said semen and sperm were found on the young woman’s underwear. Further testing of sperm cells found on the underwear were inconclusive. However, some of the biological material found on the underwear matched Labrie’s DNA, she said.
Another state criminalist, Kevin McMahon, said he examined a swab from the accuser’s cervix and found no evidence of sperm.
Labrie’s accuser didn’t stay in the courtroom for the entire testimony. As he was reading emails the two had exchanged, she stormed out of the courtroom, crying.
She returned when prosecutors questioned Labrie.
Labrie testified that the two knew each other through the girl’s older sister, whom he dated for a short time.
Prosecutors repeatedly asked the defendant about his use of the words “slay,” “pork” and “score” and the meaning they had in his conversations with male friends. Labrie testified they were terms used loosely that could mean a range of activities, from kissing to sex.
He testified later that he always kept a condom in his wallet, something he did throughout high school.
‘I tried to be as polite as possible”
Labrie first told Concord police Detective Julie Curtin that the girl had the condom, and then he said it was his, the detective testified Tuesday. Labrie called the girl and her sister “angels,” the detective said, and insisted he would never have had sex with her because of her age.
Curtin said Labrie became frustrated because detectives kept asking about the “Senior Salute.” He said that seniors took younger girls’ virginity with a sense of pride and that younger girls were often proud to lose their virginity to seniors, Curtin said.
On the stand, the girl said she agreed to meet Labrie and accompany him to a machine room. When they kissed, she did not object, she testified. But soon he began to grope her. He bit her chest and tried to remove her underwear, she said.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, keep it up here,’ ” she testified, signaling above her waist. “I tried to be as polite as possible.”