CONCORD, New Hampshire — Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday in the trial of a New England prep school graduate, after five days of detailed and often uncomfortable testimony.
The 19-year-old defendant, Owen Labrie, is accused of raping a then 15-year-old freshman girl on the rooftop of a math and science building two days before graduating from the St. Paul’s School last year. He is expected to take the stand Wednesday to offer his side of the story in a case that has shaken this small community and shone a spotlight on campus culture at one of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools.
During technical testimony Tuesday from a state forensics expert, jurors heard about a DNA test on underwear worn by the accuser on the night of the incident. The expert, Katie Swango, said that DNA matched “to a reasonable degree of certainty” a separate DNA sample for the defendant. However, Swango also said a second DNA test came back inconclusive.
Another expert, Kevin McMahon, said that he had earlier discovered a “strong indication” of semen in a panel of the underwear, and sent the evidence off to Swango for the DNA testing.
Earlier, jurors heard from two police detectives who interviewed Labrie.
After a full day of testimony from police investigators, prosecutors made their way through their last witness shortly before court adjourned Tuesday.
Prosecutors say that when Labrie was an 18-year-old senior at St. Paul’s here in Concord, he forced himself on the girl as part of a tradition called “senior salute,” in which graduating seniors sought out younger students for sex.
Labrie acknowledged the tradition during his interview with police, though he said his encounter was not an instance of the senior salute. Labrie also acknowledged having sexual contact with the girl, though he told police he did not have sex with her. Labrie’s attorneys have also said repeatedly in court that there was no sex.
Labrie was arrested and charged last summer 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. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Tuesday, the judge in the case dropped one of the two misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child, leaving nine charges remaining in all against Labrie.
During testimony earlier Tuesday the lead detective in the case told the court that Labrie said the girl’s underwear remained on throughout, preventing him from taking the encounter further. “He said her clothes came off but her underwear never came off,” Concord Police Detective Julie Curtin said.
According to Curtin, Labrie told her he had a “sobering moment” after putting a condom on, and at that point decided to leave the scene. “He said at no time did he penetrate her,” Curtin recalled, adding later: “He said he sprinted off with the condom still on.”
Testifying last week, the girl said Labrie did in fact have intercourse with her, and she said that, at one point before carrying out the act, he criticized her for being a “tease.”
“And what happened after you put your clothes on?” lead prosecutor Catherine Ruffle asked the girl last Wednesday.
“He came back over to me, kissed me and said, ‘Well, that was fun,’ or something like that,” the accuser said, adding that she was so shocked by the events that she couldn’t immediately respond.
The police detective also told the court Tuesday that Labrie steered discussion with her toward his achievements at school, at one point emailing her his college application essay, which the detective told the court was not relevant to her investigation. Curtin also said that Labrie denied that encounter was an instance of a senior salute.
Later, during cross examination, defense attorney J.W. Carney challenged Curtin on her methods, asking why she encouraged Labrie to speak to her at the Concord Police Department last summer without his mother on hand.
“You convinced him that he should meet with you without his mother,” Carney said during one tense exchange.
“Owen made his own decision,” Curtin replied. She added later that she encouraged Labrie to speak privately with her and a fellow detective because speaking about the intimate details of the allegations in front of his mother would embarrass him and keep him from going into detail.
The trial has put unwelcome attention on St. Paul’s School, which boasts a roster of alumni that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as members of congress, and, according to its website, 13 U.S. ambassadors, a Nobel Prize winner, and three Pulitzer Prize winners.
The school rector, Mike Hirschfeld, told students in a letter last summer that participating in games involving sexual solicitation would be grounds for expulsion, and has said in a statement that allegations about the culture at St. Paul’s “are are not emblematic of our School or our values, our rules, or the people who represent our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff.”
On Monday, four friends of Labrie testified that Labrie had led them to believe he had in fact had intercourse with girl, and they said the encounter was part of the senior salute tradition.
The boys, of varying ages, were all friendly with Labrie through the tight-knit life on campus.
Labrie’s former roommate told the court Monday that he had warned the defendant that the freshman girl was too young.
“I told him it probably wasn’t a great idea,” the roommate said during the trial.