CONCORD, New Hampshire – Jurors in the trial of a New England prep school graduate delivered a verdict Friday, finding 19-year-old Owen Labrie not guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault, the most serious charges against him, but guilty of several lesser charges. A jury of nine men and three women found Labrie guilty of using a computer to seduce a minor, three counts of misdemeanor sex assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.
Because of the felony conviction on the computer charge, Labrie must register as a sex offender, a prosecutor said in court Friday during a bail hearing that followed.
Bail was set at $15,000, and Labrie later made his way from the courthouse to a green pickup truck, where a woman waiting behind the wheel drove him away.
According to the prosecutor in the case, Labrie could face seven years in prison on the felony conviction, and an additional year on each of the four misdemeanor convictions. A sentencing hearing has been set for October 29th.
Earlier, as the verdicts were read, the 16-year-old girl at the center of the case sobbed as she was held by her parents. Labrie appeared to choke back tears, his hand trembling as the female foreperson read aloud the verdicts to the silent room.
Jurors reached the verdict shortly before 2 p.m. after a second day of deliberating. They were given the case Thursday afternoon after closing arguments were heard in a trial that has shone a spotlight on sexual mores among teens at one of the country’s most prestigious high schools.
Labrie faced nine charges in all. The the three felony sexual sexual assault charges on which he was acquitted each carried up to 20 years in prison.
Labrie pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Over the course of the two-week trial, prosecutors said that when Labrie was an 18-year-old senior at St. Paul’s School, he sexually assaulted the girl as part of a school tradition called “Senior Salute” where graduating seniors sought sex with younger students. During an interview with police last summer, Labrie acknowledged the tradition but said this was not an instance of a senior salute.
Labrie acknowledged to police having consensual sexual contact with the girl, but during testimony in court, he said he did not have sex with the girl. Labrie told jurors the two traded kisses and removed some clothing on the rooftop of a school building, and that at one point he put on a condom. But, he said, he had second thoughts and did not follow through with the act.
But the girl told the court Labrie did in fact have sex with her, and that before carrying out the act he criticized her for being a “tease.”
“At one point I was in so much pain that I jerked backwards,” she recalled.
Speaking at times through tears, the girl recounted being led up the steps of a math and sciences building, where she and Labrie took in a view of the campus at night. Then, inside an attic area, she said the two began kissing and removing some clothing when he became aggressive and forced himself on her.
The girl acknowledged in court lifting her hips to allow Labrie to take off her shorts, but she said after that she became frozen with fear. She told the court that she said “no” three times but did not kick or scream, for fear of offending the boy.
“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me.”
In closing arguments on Thursday, defense attorney J.W. Carney said the physical contact was consensual, and drew attention to testimony from the roommate of the girl, who told police the girl had said before her meeting with Labrie that she would allow certain sexual acts. Pressed last week about the police interview with her roommate, the girl said she could not recall making those remarks.
“If you conclude that she was not being truthful with you, then I submit it taints her entire testimony,” Carney said Thursday.
Addressing jurors immediately afterward, the prosecution defended the girl’s credibility, asking why she would have undergone the ordeal that followed, including sitting for an intrusive physical examination at Concord Hospital.
“She was telling you what actually happened with painful honesty,” said Assistant Merrimack County Prosecutor Joseph Cherniske. “What kid would go through all of this unless it was 100% true?”
Cherniske also brought attention to messages Labrie exchanged with a friend, which left the friend believing he had sex with the accuser. In one exchange, Labrie told a friend he “pulled every trick in the book” to convince her.
During testimony earlier this week, Labrie told the court he had not been truthful with that friend or others, and that he gave the impression he had sex with the accuser because he wanted to “boast.” Labrie told the court he never had sex with the girl.
On Thursday, Cherniske, told jurors that the messages showed that Labrie did carry out the act.
“You only need tricks if someone says no,” Cherniske said.
After the verdict was read Friday, Labrie’s lawyer told reporters that his client’s own statements to friends made it a difficult case.
“I think the critical evidence was not the testimony of the complainant,” J.W. Carney said. “It was the testimony of Owen given when he was talking to his friends and acting like a teenager.”
Carney also said he planned to appeal the felony computer conviction.
“I believe that this computer statute was never intended for kids getting together consensually at the high school that they both attend,” Carney said. “It’s overreaching.”
The trial has put unwelcome attention on St. Paul’s, which boasts a roster of alumni that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as members of congress, and, according to its website, thirteen U.S. ambassadors, a Nobel Prize winner, and three Pulitzer Prize winners.
In a statement after the verdict Friday, the school’s top official praised the accuser in the case for coming forward, and said that the trial has been “deeply painful” for the school.
The statement went on to say that after Labrie’s arrest last year, St. Paul’s began a review of its student safety procedures, and invited experts to campus for meetings on harassment, bullying, and gender-based violence.
“The allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our values, our rules, or our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff,” the statement read.
In a letter written to students and parents last summer, school rector Mike Hirschfeld also said that students participating in games soliciting sex would be expelled.
The accuser’s family said Friday “a measure of justice” had been served, but in a statement the family went to criticize the school.
“We still feel betrayed that St. Paul’s School allowed and fostered a toxic culture that left our daughter and other students at risk to sexual violence,” the statement read. “We trusted the school to protect her and it failed us.”