Deliberations begin in New Hampshire prep school rape trial

Author: associated press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Jurors in the trial of a prep school graduate charged with raping a freshman were left to decide Thursday who was more credible: the defendant who said “divine inspiration” led him to end their escalating sexual encounter or the accuser who couldn’t recall telling a friend what sex acts she was prepared to perform.

Nineteen-year-old 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 it happened 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 began deliberations Thursday afternoon after hearing closing arguments and instructions from the judge.

Labrie contends the two had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse on May 30, 2014, two days before his graduation.

His lawyer, J.W. Carney, told the jury that 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 in front of you jurors.”

“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 Thursday that 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 that Labrie told police that Senior Salute participants “take great pride in taking the virginity of younger students.” Carney said Senior Salute led to the “tragedy that befell both these kids.”

Labrie acknowledged Wednesday that he bragged to his friends that he and the girl had sex and that he had to use “every trick in the book” for it to happen. He said it was a lie he told to seem cool and he now regrets it.

Cherniske told jurors that Labrie was telling the truth the first time – he was boasting about what he had done, not lying.

“(Labrie) wants you to believe nothing happened,” Cherniske said. “It was just a joke that he had sex with a 15-year-old girl. Yet, he deleted 119 messages from his Facebook account – messages that confirm he had sex with her. There’s no reason to delete these messages unless everything (the accuser) told you is 100 percent – period – true.”

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 from St. Paul’s 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 that she twice told Labrie “no” during their encounter and that she felt “frozen” when he persisted. She acknowledged on cross-examination that she helped Labrie remove her shirt and pants.

A police detective testified this week that Labrie told her he halted their escalating sexual contact that night during a moment of “divine inspiration.”

The prosecutor scoffed at that claim, saying Thursday that it defied common sense. Charniske 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 in the hours and days after their encounter as evidence the girl was not a rape victim.

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. The emails and Facebook communications were projected on a screen in the courtroom. In one exchange, the girl says Labrie’s plan to meet “sounds perfect.”

Labrie denied Wednesday that he had wanted to have sex with the girl for months, even though hers was the only name he put in capital letters on a list he made in late March 2014 of girls he wanted to “slay” – or hook up with – before school ended. The list was updated May 8 in an email he sent to a friend containing the phrase “Still at Large.” The girl’s name was still on the list.

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