Jury mulls fate of defendant in New Hampshire prep school rape trial

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How to teach the Owen Labries.

A New Hampshire jury is set to begin its first full day of deliberations on Friday in the trial of Owen Labrie, a former student at an elite prep school accused of raping a 15-year-old freshman girl on campus days before his graduation. Owen Labrie was “going to get what he wanted and not take no for an answer,” a prosecutor said during closing arguments in the prep school graduate’s rape trial. Paul’s boarding school, one thing is clear: Two teenagers, half-dressed in a dark basement room, were wholly unprepared for the situation they were in. Paul’s School student Owen Labrie, left, leaves the Merrimack Superior Court at the end of day with security in tow Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, in Concord, N.H. Paul’s School, a nearly 160-year-old academy whose alumni include powerful U.S. business and political leaders such as Secretary of State John Kerry.

The alleged victim acknowledged agreeing to a “senior salute” in May 2014 – a long-standing tradition among students that involved seniors inviting underclassmen to get together before graduation, often for sexual purposes. He was 18, playing a very old boys’ game of hormones and bragging and entitlement, unable to grasp that the ground rules have changed since “The Catcher in the Rye.” Thanks to dogged activism and increased compassion, the invincible, bragging boy isn’t always so invincible anymore. Labrie, then a senior at the Concord boarding school, brought a blanket and a condom and took the girl to a place where “no one would hear a 15-year-old girl saying no,” prosecutor Joseph Cherniske told jurors. Labrie testified that their encounter, in the machine room on the top floor of a school building, was entirely consensual, and that he stopped before having intercourse, telling the jury: “It wouldn’t have been the good choice for me to make.” But the girl, who was on the stand for more than two days at the start of the trial, maintained that Labrie aggressively kept pushing her until she was “frozen” in fear and unable to resist. Labrie’s lawyer, meanwhile, focused closing arguments on accusing the girl — whose tearful testimony was the centerpiece of the seven-day trial — of lying to protect her reputation.

Jurors have begun deliberating whether a graduate of an elite New Hampshire prep school raped a freshman as part of a tradition of sexual conquest called Senior Salute. Prosecutors, meanwhile, seized on Facebook messages Labrie wrote to his close friends boasting that he had sex with the girl, telling one that he succeeded in doing so by pulling “every trick in the book.” The jury of nine men and three women is weighing nine charges against Labrie, the most serious of which are three counts of sexual assault on a minor that each carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. Carney Jr. zeroed in on the girl’s response to comments by her friend, who testified that the girl had said she might provide him oral sex when they got together. A tasteless “Freshman daughter drop off” banner, hung on a fraternity building in Virginia, was cause this week for harsh discipline and widespread condemnation.

But while we’re steeped in news about the dangerousness of boys, we’re surrounded by a culture that celebrates their conquests — in movies and music and, often, the hallways of their schools. Labrie is charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault, placing the burden on prosecutors to prove that he sexually penetrated the girl without her free consent.

Paul’s officials knew full well about the “Senior Salute,” a ritual of older boys seducing younger girls that may or may not have been mostly talk, but was destined to get out of hand. “There has to be something that’s bigger and louder and more real than all of that misinformation,” said Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State University. “And maybe what that’s going to be is actually sitting around and talking about it.” It’s not that institutions ignore sex ed or sexual assault. The widely followed trial has cast light on the private school’s sexual culture, particularly a “senior salute” tradition in which graduating seniors look to arrange trysts with younger students. Englander recently studied how college campus websites handle information about sexual assault — figuring that, these days, a rape victim would probably turn online for help. But Cherniske said it was Labrie who exploited the tradition to “get what he wanted,” noting that Labrie and his friends had competed over who could “slay” the most girls.

Research shows that posters, videos, and one-day-only lectures aren’t nearly as helpful as role-playing exercises and programs that teach bystanders to step in. She held her underwear when he tried to take those off . . . and then she froze in fear as he carried out his plan.” Throughout the trial, Labrie’s defense focused on seemingly affectionate, light-hearted e-mails the 15-year-old sent Labrie after their physical encounter. Research suggests that kids are most vulnerable when they’re 14 or 15, like the girl in the Labrie case — relatively new in school, In the wake of the Labrie indictment, St. Paul’s has sprung into action, bringing in speakers and training programs, efforts to “enhance healthy relationships,” according to letters from the school rector to parents and alumni. Under New Hampshire law, her account does not need to be corroborated, he said. “The law recognized that crimes like these happen in secret,” he said.

Carney says the girl lied to both the detectives and the jury when she said she didn’t recall telling her friend about the sex acts she was prepared to perform on Labrie. Otherwise, rumors would spread and word would get back to the girl’s older sister, a classmate of Labrie’s who had briefly dated him and had urged her sister to reject his invitation.

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