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St. Paul's School classmates testify at rape trial

Friends testifying Monday said that Owen Labrie reached out to the girl as part of the "Senior Salute."
St. Paul’s School
The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School is seen Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H.

CONCORD, New Hampshire — Friends of the prep school graduate on trial for rape offered more detail in the case on Monday, with four testifying that the defendant left them believing he had sexual intercourse during his encounter with a 15-year-old freshman girl two days before he graduated last year.

Coming as the prosecution prepares to rest its case, the testimony could damage the defense's position that the 19-year-old defendant did not have sex with the girl.

Proceedings resumed Monday after a three-day break in a trial that is casting a spotlight on campus culture at one of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools.

Owen Labrie was 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.

Related: Accuser in St. Paul's rape trial gives emotional testimony

Prosecutors say that when Labrie was an 18-year-old senior at St. Paul's School he forced himself on the girl as part of a school tradition called "Senior Salute," in which graduating seniors sought sexual conquests with younger students. Labrie acknowledged the tradition during an interview with police, though he said this was not an instance of a “Senior Salute.” According to police documents, Labrie also told police he didn’t have sex with the girl.

Five friends testifying Monday said that Labrie said he reached out to the girl as part of the "Senior Salute," though two said the tradition could involve kissing and nothing more.

But four of the five friends, all of them describing themselves as close to Labrie at one point at the tight-knit campus on St. Paul's, also said that Labrie either told them outright he had sex with the girl, or used crude terminology that left them believing he had.

One friend, still a student at St. Paul's and the same year as the girl, recalled how he approached the girl on Labrie’s behalf after she turned down his initial invitation.

The friend said he was able to convince the girl to accept Labrie's invitation after telling her “it’s not really a big deal,” and that he messaged Labrie to tell him she had agreed. "He was grateful and said thank you,” the friend recalled. The girl previously testified that she linked the invitation to a "Senior Salute."

According to that friend, Labrie told him privately that he had sex with her.

“Do you remember his exact words?” the prosecutor asked.

“That I had sex with her,” the friend told the court, recalling his conversation with Labrie.

A second friend, who had been on the soccer team with Labrie, recalled meeting him outside the school chapel on the night before graduation, as a school service concluded.

"What is it exactly that you remember him saying to you?" a prosecutor asked.

"He told me that he had sex with [the girl]" the friend said, recalling his conversation with Labrie.

(MSNBC is not naming the girl, who is a minor.)

Two other friends, the defendant's roommate and another classmate, both told the court that Labrie used other terms besides sex to describe the act, which left them believing he had intercourse with the girl. 

A fifth friend testified that Labrie had not said he had sex with the girl, contradicting an earlier interview that friend gave to police in which he said that Labrie had said the opposite. Prosecutors asked the friend Monday if what is in the police report is "not accurate," to which the friend replied, "that's correct."

Testimony continued from the friends most of the day, often delving into uncomfortable discussions about slang popular among Labrie’s peer group.

Labrie’s former roommate told the court he had warned the defendant the freshman girl was too young, and on that evening counseled his friend not to meet her.

"I told him it probably wasn't a great idea,” the roommate told the court.

But, later that night, according to the roommate, as the two young men sat alone in the room they shared, Labrie said he had had sex with the girl, using a crude term to describe the act.

"He seemed to be in a good mood. Smiling, more or less,” the roommate said.

The defense has sought to cast doubt on accounts that Labrie had intercourse with the girl, and has said that Labrie’s terminology could have referred to other sexual acts aside from intercourse.

The defense also asked Monday whether Labrie had given any indication that the encounter was not consensual, and the roommate said no.

Last week, the girl testified in wrenching detail how Labrie led her to the rooftop of a math and science building that night. The two began kissing and removing clothing, the girl said, when Labrie became too aggressive, biting her chest and forcing himself on her.

The defense says that the friendly tone in email and Facebook messages exchanged between the two later that evening show that she was a willing participant. The girl told the court last week that she engaged in the messaging because she was trying to avoid conflict.

Related: Teen accuser recounts night of alleged assault at St. Paul's School

The trial, which began one week ago, has thrust one of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools into the middle of a conversation about sexual mores among teens.

Later Monday, jurors heard from the dean of students, who told the court that he had been aware of the "Senior Salute" tradition since the spring of 2013.

Letters from the school’s top official and posted to the school’s website indicate that conversations had been going on for some time on campus regarding sexual conduct on campus.

"Whatever further developments become known in this case, a serious breach of our standards of mutual trust and respect has occurred,” the school’s rector wrote in a letter to parents in July 2014, after Labrie was charged.

"I am determined to learn if this alleged violation is an aberration or represents a broader issue that our many School-wide conversations about a healthy community have not sufficiently addressed.”

The school rector, Mike Hirschfeld, has also told students that participating in games involving sexual solicitation would be grounds for expulsion, and 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.”

Labrie’s friends have said that Labrie was a leader on campus and acted as a supervisor for younger students living in his dormitory. The school dean told the court Monday that the faculty relies on so-called dorm prefects to embody school values.

“We look to our prefects to be leaders school wide,” the dean said.

The testimony was central to the prosecution’s contention that Labrie, a top student-athlete who had been Harvard-bound before his arrest, violated an obligation he had to protect younger students on campus.

Before court adjourned, jurors also heard from the detective in the case, who described bringing the girl and her parents to the campus building where the incident occurred.

“She had a very significant physical reaction and started crying,” the detective said. “She crumpled into her mom’s arms."

Prosecutors said after court adjourned Monday that they may rest their case Tuesday.

Labrie’s attorney has told reporters that he will call Labrie to the stand as soon as Tuesday, and that his client is “adamant” about testifying.

The attorney said that although he is prepared to call other witnesses, he may rest his case after calling Labrie because, he said, the defense had made its points during cross examination.

The attorney, J.W. Carney, also told reporters Monday that the crude talk does not mean Labrie is guilty.

"His statements have been typical teenage statements in my view," Carney said. "With all the immaturities, imperfections, uncertainties that are reflected in teenagers."