CONCORD, N.H. (Reuters) - The jury in the rape trial of a former student at an elite New Hampshire boarding school began deliberations on Thursday after hearing closing arguments focusing on whether he forced a 15-year-old classmate to have sex or whether she accused him to save her reputation.
A county prosecutor said defendant Owen Labrie, 19, told a friend had he had used “every trick in the book” to get the victim to have sex with him.
“You only need tricks if someone says no,” Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Joseph Cherniske told the jury of 11 men and three women, including two alternates. “You only need tricks when someone is not agreeing to take off her clothing. You only need tricks when you don’t have consent.”
Both the alleged victim and Labrie took the witness stand during the six days of testimony, with the girl, now 16, saying she had expected to kiss the defendant last year when he invited her to the roof of a campus building but had not been ready for his aggressive approach. She said Labrie raped her.
Labrie contended the two had a consensual encounter that stopped short of intercourse. He said he had concluded it would be a bad idea to have sex with the girl two days before graduation.
Labrie’s attorney, J.W. Carney, argued that the teen only accused the defendant of rape when rumors about their encounter began to spread.
The girl, he said, “had to make a decision whether it would be her reputation that would go into the toilet or Owen’s and she took the easier choice.”
The teen testified she had not immediately reported the incident as a rape because her family was on campus for her older sister’s graduation and she did not want to spoil the weekend.
The trial has cast a harsh light on the culture of the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Concord, where the alleged attack was described as an outgrowth of a school tradition called the “senior salute,” in which graduating seniors seek out younger students for sexual encounters.
St. Paul’s, whose alumni include powerful U.S. business and political leaders such as Secretary of State John Kerry, has said the “senior salute” does not reflect its values.
The jury began deliberations on the charges, including three counts of felony sex assault that each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Reporting by Ted Siefer; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech