Labrie convicted of lesser charges in St. Paul’s rape trial
CONCORD, N.H. — Former St. Paul’s School student Owen Labrie was acquitted Friday of raping a 15-year-old girl in a secluded room on the campus in May of last year, but was found guilty on lesser sexual-assault charges involving a minor — a split verdict that left both teenagers in tears.
After about eight hours of deliberations, the jury of nine men and three women determined that Labrie had sex with the girl, then a freshman at the Concord boarding school, but that prosecutors had failed to prove he had acted without her consent, as she had asserted.
Labrie could face a sentence that includes several years in jail — a maximum of seven years on a computer enticement conviction, which is a felony, and as much as a year each on the four misdemeanors. Sentencing was set for Oct. 29.
In addition, Labrie, who was a straight-A student, will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, a prosecutor said afterward.
In the emotional close to the two-week trial, Labrie burst into tears at the word guilty, and later shook his head in disbelief. Behind him in the courtroom, his mother buried her head in her hands.
The teenage girl wept in her mother’s arms nearby. In a statement, the girl and her family said the convictions delivered “a measure of justice” for victims of sexual violence.
“While he was not convicted on all charges, Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter,” a family spokeswoman read to a throng of reporters outside the courthouse. “There is no joy in this outcome, however, as our daughter can never get back what she has lost.”
Labrie left the courthouse without comment, but his lawyer, J.W Carney Jr., said Labrie was devastated.
“Owen’s future is forever changed,” Carney said, likening the conviction to a brand that “will stay with him the rest of his life.”
The trial revealed the sexual culture at the highly selective 159-year-old boarding school, whose notable alumni include Secretary of State John F. Kerry and “Doonesbury’’ creator Garry Trudeau. Annual tuition exceeds $50,000, although many students, like Labrie, receive scholarships.
In often-crude testimony, jurors heard how Labrie and his friends sought to “slay” — a slang term for having sex — as many girls as they could, using their status on campus to woo underclassmen in a rite known as the “senior salute.”
In its statement, the girl’s family said they still felt betrayed that the school “allowed and fostered a toxic culture that left our daughter and other students at risk to sexual violence.”
“We trusted the school to protect her and it failed us,” they said.
The school, in its own statement, did not respond directly to complaints that it had failed to curb such behavior, but it praised the girl for her resolve.
Electronic messages read during trial indicated that for months, Labrie had a crush on the younger student, a sister of a classmate, before inviting her to meet that night. He brought a blanket and a condom to a secluded mechanical room.
Their stories diverged from that point. The girl tearfully testified that Labrie had sex with her over her multiple objections, ignoring her efforts to keep her bra and underwear on.
Labrie described a playful, consensual encounter in which he decided against having sex after a moment of “divine inspiration.”
Jurors found Labrie guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, endangering a child, and using computer services to lure a minor, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.
The sexual-assault charges would commonly be referred to as statutory rape, which is typically a felony. In this case, however, they were misdemeanors because, the indictment read, the difference in age between Labrie and the girl was four years or less.
Carney, meanwhile, said the jury concluded the sexual encounter was mutual and that the convictions for misdemeanor assaults were based on the girl’s age.
“One teenager was found guilty of having consensual sex with another teenager,” he said.
Carney described the computer-enticement charge as “overreaching” and indicated he may appeal. He said the law, which applies to juvenile victims younger than 16, was not meant to apply to teenagers making social plans.
Carney said Labrie’s comments to several friends that he had sex with the girl were the “most damning” evidence against him. Labrie, in his testimony this week, said he lied about what happened in order to show off.
“If he knew then what would result, he would have told his friends the truth,” Carney said.
Carney said he will seek probation with “serious conditions.” Prosecutors declined to specify what sentence they will recommend until a review is conducted before a hearing slated for late October.
Labrie will remain free on $15,000 bail, although prosecutor Catherine Ruffle urged higher bail, saying Labrie could flee now that he has been convicted.
“The circumstances have changed,” she said.
Prosecutors credited the teenage girl for her courage during the trial, and said the convictions “send a message” that victims of sexual assault can find justice.
“It’s a testament to the courage of the young woman,” said Scott W. Murray, Merrimack County attorney. Murray said his office was satisfied with the convictions, and that they “vindicate the victim.”
St. Paul’s School also lauded the girl, whose wrenching testimony was a centerpiece of the trial.
In a statement released after the verdict, Michael Hirschfeld, rector at the Episcopal school, commended the former student’s “remarkable moral courage and strength.”
“Her resolve and unwavering commitment to the truth have been inspiring to us and to many outside our school community,” he wrote. “We can only hope that time will bring some measure of healing and comfort to both her and her family.”
After the verdict, Labrie, whose acceptance to Harvard was rescinded, rested his head on the table and later stared at the ceiling. Sitting behind him, his mother called out to him that she loved him, and he turned to say he loved her, too.
“I didn’t lie to you,” he said, blinking back tears.