CONCORD, N.H. — Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the trial of former St. Paul’s School student Owen Labrie, who prosecutors said in closing arguments “turned his lust for a 15-year-old girl into reality” when he took the freshman to a dark, secluded room last spring and raped her.
Labrie, then a senior at the Concord boarding school, brought a blanket and a condom and took the girl to a place where “no one would hear a 15-year-old girl saying no,” prosecutor Joseph Cherniske told jurors.
Labrie’s lawyer, meanwhile, focused closing arguments on accusing the girl — whose tearful testimony was the centerpiece of the seven-day trial — of lying to protect her reputation.
Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. zeroed in on the girl’s response to comments by her friend, who testified that the girl had said she might provide him oral sex when they got together.
The girl said she didn’t recall saying that, which Carney said was “absurd” and undermined her overall credibility. She knew that answering truthfully would “destroy the whole image she was trying to create” of an innocent, sexually inexperienced girl, he said.
Labrie is charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault, placing the burden on prosecutors to prove that he sexually penetrated the girl without her free consent. If convicted, he could serve at least 10 years.
Labrie also faces a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, because the girl was younger than 16 at the time.
The widely followed trial has cast light on the private school’s sexual culture, particularly a “senior salute” tradition in which graduating seniors look to arrange trysts with younger students. Carney accused St. Paul’s of “failing its children” by allowing the rite to persist.
“The idea that you would wink at a tradition the senior salute represents is shocking,” Carney said.
But Cherniske said it was Labrie who exploited the tradition to “get what he wanted,” noting that Labrie and his friends had competed over who could “slay” the most girls.
“He had just one thing left to accomplish at St. Paul’s School,” he said. “The slay he had been saving all year.”
Cherniske asked the jury to recall the girl’s emotional appearance on the witness stand, when she described in painful detail how she said Labrie had sex with her over her objections.
“[She] said no, and she said it three times,” he said. “She held her bra when he tried to take it off. She held her underwear when he tried to take those off . . . and then she froze in fear as he carried out his plan.”
Throughout the trial, Labrie’s defense focused on seemingly affectionate, light-hearted e-mails the 15-year-old sent Labrie after their physical encounter. But Cherniske said there was a pattern to the exchanges that revealed fear, not affection.
“She didn’t want to see him,” he said. “She had to respond or he might try to see her in person.”
She was also trying to downplay the incident, still struggling to grasp what had happened to her, he said.
“She’s not ready for the world to know she was raped,” Cherniske said. “She blamed herself that all she could do was say no.”
The prosecutor dismissed Labrie’s assertion that he decided against having sex after putting on a condom as “not a believable story.”
He then asked for the jury to remember how the girl had wept when describing the attack and grew angry under cross-examination when questioned about her responses to police just days after the alleged attack.
“Did that look like an act? When you watched her struggle to get out the words, were you sitting here thinking ‘This is all a big lie?’ ” Cherniske asked.
“To believe she was lying to you is to believe that all this was staged,” he added.
Under New Hampshire law, her account does not need to be corroborated, he said. “The law recognized that crimes like these happen in secret,” he said.
Four of Labrie’s friends testified he told them he had sex with the girl, which Labrie asserted were lies designed to make himself look better.
But prosecutors said Labrie, a popular figure on campus, had no reason to exaggerate his exploits to his closest friends.
“They were like brothers, and now he wants you to believe he was lying because he was bragging. . . . It doesn’t make sense,” Cherniske said.
Prosecutors also reminded jurors that Labrie’s DNA was found on the girl’s underpants, and that semen was found on the interior panel of her underwear — though it could not be determined whether it was Labrie’s.
Carney, meanwhile, homed in on the seemingly cordial electronic messages the girl sent Labrie just hours after they were together, such as “you’re quite an angel yourself.”
“Please read those e-mails and chats and decide, ‘Is this someone who was unwilling in what happened?’ ” Carney urged the jury.
He also noted that the girl asked Labrie to keep their meeting secret, saying it “explains so much” in the case. Otherwise, rumors would spread and word would get back to the girl’s older sister, a classmate of Labrie’s who had briefly dated him and had urged her sister to reject his invitation.
But once news got out that they had been together, the girl was confronted with a choice: tell the truth or try to salvage her reputation, he said.
“She took the easier choice,” Carney said.
Carney also cited the girl’s comments to detectives that she had been laughing at times during the encounter, and noted that she told friends after the tryst that “I think I had sex with Owen Labrie.”
Carney said that it’s common for teenage boys to exaggerate their sexual exploits.
“I’m not saying he’s a saint. He’s not a saint. He’s a teenager. But I submit he told the truth on the stand,” he said.Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.