Owen Labrie was found not guilty Friday of the three most serious sexual assault charges — all felonies — filed against him after a 15-year-old former St. Paul's School student accused him of raping her at the school's Concord, New Hampshire, campus in 2014.
Labrie was, however, found guilty of a felony count of using "computer services" — namely, Facebook messages and emails — to lure a child under 16, the age of consent, into a sexual assault. His lawyer said that means he will be on the state's sex offender registry for life. The charge also carries a possible sentence of three and a half to seven years in jail.
He was also found guilty of three charges of misdemeanor sexual assault, one misdemeanor charge of using a computer to endanger a child, and one misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child. The misdemeanor sexual assault charges could carry a year in prison.
Labrie was released on $15,000 bail pending his sentencing on Oct. 29, when the judge will determine if he will go to prison and for how long. Labrie was also found not guilty of simple assault.
The jury — nine men and three women — deliberated for about seven hours. Their decisions indicate that they believe Labrie was guilty of having sex with an underage girl, but they didn't believe the accuser's charge that it was not consensual.
Labrie hung his arms around his neck and cried as the guilty pleas were read. His mother, with her face in her hands, was audibly crying as well. Other family members reached out to comfort his mother. The victim sat in the courtroom in between her mother and her sister as the verdict was being read.
"Today, a measure of justice has been served for victims of sexual violence," the victim and her family said in a statement. "While he was not convicted on all charges, Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter. This conviction requires him to take ownership for his actions and gives him the opportunity to reflect upon the harm he has caused. There is no joy in this outcome, however, as our daughter can never get back what she has lost nor can St. Paul’s School ever be our community again."
In a press conference outside the courthouse, defense lawyer J.W. Carney said the felony conviction of using a computer to contact the girl should not be applied to a situation like this and he said he plans to file a motion to address it.
“We know why people [who] use computers to lure young children should be punished harshly,” Carney said. “I believe this computer statue was never intended for kids getting together consensually at their high school.”
Carney said Labrie is disappointed and devastated with the conviction, which “will be like a brand or a tattoo on him that will be impossible to remove.”
“In essence what happened as a result of this trial is one teenager was found guilty of having consensual sex with another teenager.”
Carney said the most damning evidence in the case was the statements his client made to his friends, claiming he had sex with the girl, when as he later said, he never did.
“Owen wasn’t mature or aware enough of possible consequences to talk honestly and say nothing happened,” Carney said. “Instead, like many men, he preferred to boast about a sexual conquest that never happened.”
The trial called into question a decades-long tradition at the elite prep school — which boasts Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. ambassadors, and Secretary of State John Kerry as alumni — known as the “senior salute,” whereby male and female seniors invite underclassmen out on dates.
While a “senior salute” can be as simple as walking to class together, or kissing, prosecutors claim it is sexual, as boys compete with each other for how many girls they can sleep with.
Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle explained to the court that the tradition has been passed down year after year, occurring at the end of the school term when seniors are preparing to graduate. Before receiving their diplomas, she said seniors extend invitations, often to younger students, to go on dates.
Ruffle claimed that Labrie specifically targeted the girl because he had hooked up with one of her relatives, who was also a student. The previous hookup with the relative increased the point value of his encounter with the accuser, Ruffle said.
Much of the trial has focused on consent and whether the girl, now 16, was a willing participant of the “senior salute.” Presenting Facebook messages and emails the two teens exchanged, Labrie’s attorney, J.W. Carney, said the girl knew what she was doing.
Carney called this case a story about “two high school kids and the experiences they have growing up,” and said both teens lied to protect their reputations. He said when Labrie told his friends he and the girl had sex, he wasn't telling the truth. But Carney said the girl accusing Labrie of rape also lied to protect her reputation.
She "had to make a decision if it was her reputation that went in the toilet, or Owen's," Carney said during closing arguments. "She took the easier choice."
Carney said Labrie had a moment of clarity — “divine intervention” — and ended the date before the two had sex.
Labrie testified that he did indeed have a crush on the girl and wanted to spend time with her. He said the two kissed and removed some clothing. She was giggling the whole time, he said.
“I thought she was having a great time,” he said.
After putting on a condom, Labrie said he realized “it wouldn’t have been a good move to have sex with” the girl. He said he then got dressed and left. By the time he got back to his dorm, he said younger boys were high-fiving him and congratulating him on having sex with the girl.
Labrie said he didn’t correct them because he “wanted to look good."
“I’m not saying he is a saint,” Carney said during closing arguments. “He is not a saint. He is a teenager.”
A number of former St. Paul’s School students who knew Labrie, including his roommate of three years, testified that Labrie told them he had sex with the girl.
Carney dismissed these statements, saying that teenage boys often embellish or lie about their sex lives.
In stark contrast to Labrie’s side of the story, the girl took the stand in an emotional testimony and said she was raped and “violated in so many ways.”
The prosecution argued that Labrie “confused and manipulated” the girl to “get what he wanted.” Using emails and Facebook messages as evidence, prosecutors said Labrie planned to have sex with the girl as early as January 2014.
The girl initially declined Labrie’s “senior salute,” but after one of Labrie’s friends told her he was a good guy, she changed her mind and accepted. She testified that she expected they would kiss, but nothing more.
During her testimony she graphically described how their sexual encounter quickly escalated. She let him take her shirt off, she said, because she didn’t want to offend him. The girl then said Labrie ripped off her bra and bit her chest. She said he attempted to remove her underwear but that she said “no” while trying to be as polite as possible because she didn’t want to come off as “bitchy.”
“I didn’t know how to deal with it because I’ve never been in a situation like this,” she said in court. “I’d never been touched in that way.”
Prosecutors argued that the girl, being an inexperienced teenager, did not know how to properly stand up to an older boy, but she explicitly said “no.”
“I didn’t kick or scream or really push,” the girl testified. “I didn’t. But I did say ‘no.’ I said ‘no’ three times.”
Prosecutor Cherniske said during closing arguments that the whatever the girl’s intentions were before the encounter are not important as she never consented at the time.
Cherniske said that Labrie “pulled every trick in the book” to “get what he wanted.”
“You only need tricks when you don’t have consent,” he said.
The school said in a statement that they "commend the remarkable strength and courage of the young woman."
Here is the victim and family's full statement:
“Our family, like many others, have read several articles on campus sexual assault in recent years with concern as our daughters progressed through school. But never in our worst nightmares could we have imagined that we would be experiencing this issue firsthand with our 15-year-old daughter during her first year of high school. The reality of this national epidemic has hit home and there is overwhelming sadness for the large number of students suffering from sexual violence everyday in this nation.
Today, a measure of justice has been served for victims of sexual violence. While he was not convicted on all charges, Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter. This conviction requires him to take ownership for his actions and gives him the opportunity to reflect upon the harm he has caused. There is no joy in this outcome, however, as our daughter can never get back what she has lost nor can St. Paul’s School ever be our community again.
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. We trusted the school to protect her and it failed us. We continue to feel anger and disappointment for the lack of character and integrity that the young men of St. Paul’s School showed, laughing and joking with Owen Labrie at graduation about “slaying” our daughter. Both the school and these young men should bear the shame of these crimes along with Owen Labrie.
While we stood together as a family through this process, it was our young daughter who took the stand to speak the truth and request justice. We admire her bravery in coming forward and speaking out in the face of great adversity. It is truly her courage that has made this measure of justice possible today.
We would be remiss not to express our deepest thanks and appreciation to the Concord Police, the Concord Child Advocacy Center, and the Merrimack County Prosecutor's Office for their tireless efforts to pursue the truth and secure justice in this case. They treated our family with dignity and respect during this long ordeal and we are eternally grateful for their service.
We also would like to thank the court and its staff, for preforming their civic duties, the jury for its service, which required spending time away from their families, extended family and friends, for traveling here or otherwise sending their support, and for the complete strangers who offered us support and words of encouragement through the most difficult process of our lives.”