Accuser in prep school rape trial takes the stand

By James Novogrod
August 18, 2015

The entrance to the elite St. Paul's School is seen Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H.
Photo by Jim Cole

CONCORD, New Hampshire — The accuser in the rape case that has raised questions about campus life at one of the country’s most elite prep schools took the stand Tuesday, breaking down in tears as she identified the man who she says assaulted her in a school building in May last year.

Nineteen-year-old Owen Labrie is accused of raping the then 15-year-old girl two days before his graduation from St. Paul’s School here in Concord.

The prosecutor in the case said in opening statements Tuesday that the assault occurred as a part of a school tradition called “Senior Salute,” in which members of the senior class allegedly seek sexual conquests with younger students.

Taking the stand late in the day, the accuser recounted how Labrie, then 18, sent her an email message proposing they spend time together. The girl, who was a freshman at the time, told the court that she turned the invitation down but reconsidered after being pressed by a fellow classmate.

Court adjourned as the girl’s testimony was still in progress. She is expected to resume her testimony Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, prosecutor Catherine J. Ruffle, the deputy Merrimack County attorney, told the court that Labrie that night became “very aggressive, very fast” after taking the girl to the rooftop of the math and science building on campus.

Ruffle said that the girl had expected there would be “some amount of physical encounter,” and that the couple had been kissing and had removed some clothing, and that Labrie became too aggressive.

“She’s a 15-year-old girl without sexual experience,” Ruffle said. “She tried to say no, tried to use her physical conduct to let him know this was not OK.”

But defense attorney J.W. Carney told the court Tuesday that the girl must have had an expectation of what would occur, because, he said, “it was a source of pride for girls to be asked to participate in Senior Salute.”

Carney pointed to bantering messages between the girl and Labrie after the event, including one in which the girl said she lost an earring on the rooftop. Carney said the messages showed that the girl had been a willing participant.

“Are these the words of a rape victim?” Carney asked the court.

Police documents show that Concord police were alerted after a school counselor at St. Paul’s reached out to the police department. The counselor said she had been contacted by the mother of the girl.

Labrie is charged with several counts of felony sex assault, misdemeanor sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and using a computer to solicit or lure a child under the age of 16.

Labrie has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and according to documents relating to an interview he did with police, Labrie said he had physical contact with the girl that night but that he stopped short of having sex with her.

St. Paul’s is one of the country’s most prestigious private boarding schools. According to its website, its graduates have included six senators or congressmen, three candidates for president, 13 U.S. ambassadors, a Nobel Prize winner and three Pulitzer Prize winners.

Secretary of State John Kerry is a graduate, as is the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

Carney, the defense attorney, said Tuesday that Labrie was a scholarship student.

In a statement, St. Paul’s says that the allegations about culture on the campus do not reflect the school’s values.

“Current allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our School or our values, our rules, or the people who represent our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff,” the school said.


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