Former private school student found not guilty of raping 15-year-old in "senior salute" case

Former private school student found not guilty of raping 15-year-old in "senior salute" case

Owen Labrie, 19, was found not guilty of three felony counts of sexually assaulting a fellow student at St Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, US. However, the jury found him guilty of having sex with a minor, and seducing her through 'online communication'.

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Owen Labrie, 19, is comforted by his lawyer JW Carney as the verdict is read.
Photo: AP

CONCORD - A former student of an elite New Hampshire prep school was found not guilty on Friday of raping a 15-year-old girl days before graduation last year.

Owen Labrie, 19, was found not guilty of three felony counts of sexually assaulting a fellow student at St Paul’s School in Concord. The jury found him guilty of lesser misdemeanor counts of having sex with a person under the age of consent, as well as a felony count of using online communications to seduce a minor.

Labrie closed his eyes and began to sob as the first verdict, finding him guilty of computer-related seduction, was read but regained his composure as the jury forewoman read out the three not guilty verdicts. 

He could face a sentence of up to 11 years in prison for the charges he was found guilty of. Each felony sex assault count had carried a potential sentence of as much as 20 years in prison.

The focus of the trial was the "senior salute," a longstanding tradition among St Paul’s students that involved seniors inviting underclassmen to hook up before graduation.

The accuser, who spent more than two days on the stand, acknowledged agreeing to Labrie’s invitation for a "senior salute," but said she expected to kiss Labrie and not go much further. She said Labrie aggressively kept pushing her until she was "frozen" in fear and unable to resist.


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"Today, a measure of justice has been served for victims of sexual violence," the girl’s family said in a statement. "Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for the crimes he committed against our daughter."

Labrie's defence lawyer, JW Carney, also served as the lawyer to the famous Boston gangster "Whitey" Bulger.
Photo: AP

Labrie's lawyer, JW Carney, argued that Labrie and the teen, whose sister was a senior at the school, both flirted with each other, and went on to have a consensual encounter - but that they didn't actually have sex.

The defense had focused on the testimony of a close friend of the accuser, who said the teen told her that she was willing to do certain sex acts short of intercourse. The accuser denied having said it.

Carney said the teen accused Labrie of rape only after rumors of their encounter began to spread.

The accuser, Carney said, "had to make a decision whether it would be her reputation that would go into the toilet, or Owen’s and she took the easier choice."

Labrie answered questions from the prosecutors.
Photo: AP

Prosecutors had argued that Labrie targeted the teen for a last sexual conquest before graduation, citing Facebook messages in which he boasted of having sex with her and a list of girls he compiled that he wanted to "slay," school slang for sex, with the teen’s name in all-capital letters.

Defense attorneys had tried to portray Labrie as a hardworking and ambitious student, who unlike many of the students at the prestigious boarding school did not come from a privileged background and was able to attend only because he had earned a scholarship to do so.

St Paul’s, whose alumni include powerful US business and political leaders such as Secretary of State John Kerry, said the tradition did not accurately reflect its culture.

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