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St. Paul’s graduate, only defense witness, denies rape

During testimony in Merrimack Superior Court, Owen Labrie described how he disrobed a female student.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — Former St. Paul’s School student Owen Labrie took the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday and flatly denied accusations that he raped a 15-year-old girl in a secluded room on the prep school campus, describing a casual, mutual physical encounter that escalated but stopped short of sex.

Labrie, the only defense witness in the trial, appeared confident and composed as he rebutted charges that he forced himself on the freshman girl just before graduation in May 2014. Responding to detailed questions about their interaction, Labrie said he decided not to have sex with the girl just after he put on a condom.


“I thought to myself, maybe we shouldn’t do this,” Labrie, 19, said. “I had a second thought while I was looking down at her.”

Labrie’s testimony sharply diverged from the girl’s emotional testimony last week, when she tearfully said Labrie became aggressive and forced her to have sexual intercourse.

The girl, now 16, told the court last week that Labrie ignored her objections and struggles to keep her underwear on during their encounter.

Four friends of Labrie’s testified Monday that he told them he had sex with the girl soon after their meeting, arranged as part of a year’s end campus tradition called “senior salute.”

After a prosecutor sought to undercut his testimony with a pointed line of questioning Wednesday, Labrie’s lawyers rested their case. Closing arguments in the trial are expected Thursday.

The jury will soon have the difficult task of determining whether Labrie’s or his accuser’s story is more credible.

Labrie spent the full day on the witness stand Wednesday. Clad in a dark sport coat, white shirt, and burgundy tie, he testified that he thought he was about to have sex with the girl, the sister of a classmate, before thinking better of it.


“It didn’t feel like the right move,” he added.

Labrie, a standout student and popular figure on campus, said he and the ninth-grader had flirted throughout the year, and that she was “very easy to talk to.”

“I thought she was great,” he said, during questioning from his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr. When they would see each other on campus, Labrie said, they would wave and sometimes hug.

The girl had previously said that she hardly knew Labrie, making her skeptical of his intentions when he invited her to meet.

She eventually said yes, asking Labrie to keep their meeting secret. In electronic messages read in court, Labrie wrote that “not a soul needs to know.”

Labrie said Wednesday he thought she wanted to keep it secret from her sister, whom Labrie had briefly dated, and because the elite boarding school was known as a hothouse for rumors.

As Labrie read their messages, the girl became upset and left the courtroom, though she later returned during his cross-examination.

Prosecutors contend Labrie was competing with friends over who could “score’’ with the most girls, and had eyed the freshman for months.

Labrie, meanwhile, described a casual get-together with no set expectations.

He took her to the roof of an academic building, where they enjoyed the view of the campus below, he said.

“It looked really nice,” he said. “Everything was all lit up.”

In a dark room downstairs, the two began to kiss, Labrie said, and took their sweatshirts off before spreading out a blanket he had brought in a backpack.


As they kissed more, they were chatting, laughing and whispering in each other’s ears, he said.

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

The girl had testified that Labrie painfully bit her several times on her breast, but Labrie denied that Wednesday.

He acknowledged, however, that he had kissed her aggressively.

“I may have gotten a little carried away,” he said. She gave no indication she was in pain, he said.

They later took off their shorts, but Labrie denied touching the girl’s genitals, as she alleged.

After deciding not to have sex, he testified, he kissed her goodnight and left.

In messages after the encounter, the girl asked Labrie if he had worn a condom, and he said he “put it on halfway through.”

Asked about his response, Labrie said he “didn’t know exactly what she meant,” but got nervous because he remembered his shorts were slightly wet after the encounter.

Carney asked about his statements to friends after the encounter, and Labrie said he had lied to them about having sex in an effort to “look good.”

“I wanted everyone to think it had gone great,” he said.

But when interviewed by police, he consistently denied having sex with her, investigators testified.

“Did you ever tell the police that you had penetrated [her]?” Carney asked.

“No, I did not,” he said.

Under cross-examination, Labrie appeared noticeably more nervous, as prosecutor Joseph Cherniske repeatedly asked him if he had wanted to have sex with the girl over the preceding months.


“I was fond of her,” he said. “I often talked about my affection for her with my friends.”

He acknowledged telling friends he wanted to “slay” her, but it didn’t mean sex, he said.

“I thought she was attractive, yes,” he said. “I might have been interested in kissing her.”

As the intense questioning continued, Labrie acknowledged he had a crush on the girl, but denied wanting her sexually.

“I wouldn’t use those words,” he said. “I thought she was cute.”

Labrie acknowledged he didn’t tell police about the wetness in his boxer shorts after the encounter, saying the issue wasn’t raised in interviews with detectives.

And he repeated that he lied to his friends about having sex with the girl because he wanted to boast to them.

“It was easier to lie, right?” Cherniske asked in one tense exchange.

“Yeah. I didn’t want to talk about what really happened,” Labrie replied.

“When you are in a tough spot, you lie?” Cherniske asked.

“No,” he replied.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

A previous version of this story inaccurately described the accuser’s account of Labrie’s effort to remove her clothes at the time of the alleged rape.