Owen Labrie, St. Paul’s Student Accused of Rape, Takes the Stand

By Jess Bidgood
New York Times
August 26, 2015

Owen Labrie, 19, gestured as he recalled disrobing a classmate who has accused him of rape.
Photo by Charles Krupa

CONCORD, N.H. — The student accused of rape in a case that has cast a harsh light on sex culture at an exclusive New England boarding school took the stand on Wednesday, denying that he had sex with the girl and presenting himself as a model of virtue: a high-achieving soccer captain who won an award for his character before graduating last year.

Speaking loudly and clearly, the student, Owen Labrie, 19, told the jury that the encounter last year with the accuser, who is now 16, had been consensual.

He said that “score” — a term he and others used, according to previous testimony — did not necessarily suggest sex, but rather should be interpreted as “synonymous with dating.”

And he said that while his encounter with the girl — a fellow student at the school, St. Paul’s, here in Concord — had included rolling around in their underwear, kissing and touching, it had not involved intercourse.

“It wouldn’t have been a good move to have sex with this girl,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been a good choice for me.”

The upstanding self-portrait Mr. Labrie presented closed the testimony phase of a trial that over the past week and a half has offered a rare look into the culture and language of sex, and the pressure to conform, among a group of students at one of the country’s most elite boarding schools.

Student after student took the stand to describe the “senior salute,” which they said was generally the practice of older students’ getting together with younger ones for romantic encounters before graduation. The dean of students testified that he was familiar with the term. But Mr. Labrie and the accuser gave different accounts of what happened when they met for such an encounter: He described a playful tryst, while she said she was raped.

The messages Mr. Labrie exchanged with the girl and his friends before and after have played a significant role throughout the case, with prosecutors and Mr. Labrie’s lawyer asking witnesses to define not just the senior salute, but also the “slaying” of girls and more graphic descriptions that could be interpreted as references to sex or to far less.

Some of the back-and-forth messaging between Mr. Labrie and the girl, read aloud for the jury, led the girl to rush from the courtroom on Wednesday. Mr. Labrie admitted, under a withering and rapid-fire cross-examination by a county attorney, that he had deleted dozens of other online messages with his friends.

One message that he sent toward the end of the school year, a time that some seniors saw as their last chance for sexual encounters with younger students, said, “Welcome to an eight-week exercise in debauchery, a probing exploration of the innermost meanings of the word sleaze bag,” adding, “Can sisters be slain in the same evening?”

Mr. Labrie said Wednesday that it had been an attempt at humor. “That’s a rhetorical question, and, um, it’s a joke,” he said. “It’s not that funny now, however.”

It was among a litany of messages read this week by several friends of Mr. Labrie. As they took the stand — most clad in dark blazers and light pants, as if in uniform — they grudgingly described a backslapping world of sexual conquest with its own lexicon of synonyms for dating and hooking up: a world in which, some messages suggested, Mr. Labrie was something of a bombastic ringleader.

Mr. Labrie said Wednesday that he was something far less. He said that he was a child of divorce who could only attend St. Paul’s on scholarship, and that he was thinking of becoming a minister after college.

Mr. Labrie invited the girl for the so-called senior salute, a custom among some students at the boarding school that he described as a way to ask younger students “to hang out before the older student graduated.”

He said his intentions had been innocent. “I wanted to ask her out,” he said.

The girl initially sent him a sharp rejection, which, a detective said, Mr. Labrie later described as “sassy.”

But another student, a minor who took the stand on Monday, intervened on Mr. Labrie’s behalf. He told the girl that she should give Mr. Labrie a chance. Mr. Labrie expressed his gratitude to the student in a message, adding that he owed the friend 10,000 sexual favors.

Mr. Labrie said on Wednesday that he had been told the girl wanted their encounter to be a secret because she did not want him to gloat to her older sibling, whom he said he had previously dated for about a week.

In his own description of the encounter, Mr. Labrie confirmed that he and the girl had gone to the roof of a campus building, then to a room below. He said the girl, who was 15 at the time, had displayed no initial hesitance. “We started to kiss just a little bit,” he said. “She giggled and I giggled.”

When asked by his lawyer, J. W. Carney Jr., if he had aggressively kissed the girl’s breasts, he said: “I may have. I may have been a little carried away.”

Mr. Labrie added that he had believed they were going to have sex and so had put on a condom. It was at that point, he said, that he had a change of heart. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this,’ ” he said.

Mr. Carney asked Mr. Labrie if he had put his fingers, his tongue or his penis under the girl’s underwear at any point. To each body part, Mr. Labrie said no.

Mr. Carney also asked if, at specific points, the girl had expressed a desire to stop what they were doing. Mr. Labrie said she had not.

The girl testified last week that she had said no more than once, but that she had worried that she might offend Mr. Labrie or draw scorn, and had felt frozen. She also testified that Mr. Labrie had scraped inside her vagina with his fingers, licked her there and penetrated her with what she believed was his penis.

Mr. Labrie said of one point early in their encounter, “I thought she was having a great time.”

When he got back to his room, he said, some students came running in to congratulate him.

Several of his friends testified this week that after Mr. Labrie’s encounter with the girl, he told them they had had sex. On Wednesday, he told the jury repeatedly that that was not true.

“So you lied to your other best friend?” Joseph Cherniske, an assistant county attorney, asked.

“Yes, I did,” Mr. Labrie said.

“’Cause it’s easy for you to lie?” Mr. Cherniske asked.

“No,” Mr. Labrie answered.

Rather, he said during questioning from his own lawyer, he did not tell the truth because the encounter had ended awkwardly, and satisfying his friends’ expectations seemed easier.

“I wanted to look good,” he said Wednesday. “I wanted everyone to think that it had gone great.”


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