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St. Paul's School rape defendant found guilty of misdemeanor sex assault

CONCORD, N.H. -- A jury has found former New Hampshire prep school student Owen Labrie not guilty of all three felony sex charges but guilty of lesser offenses -- including three charges of misdemeanor sex assault -- in his rape trial for allegedly assaulting a 15-year-old female student two days before he graduated last year.

Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, faced nine charges, including the three felony sex assault charges that carried potential sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison.

Prep school rape suspect says he stopped sexual encounter

Labrie was also found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and of using a computer to lure the girl, a Class B felony. He was found not guilty on a simple assault charge.

He faces up to a year in jail for each of the misdemeanors and 3 ½ to 7 years for the felony. Prosecutor Joseph Cherniske says Labrie will have to register as a sex offender.

The jury deliberated for seven and a half hours.

Labrie exhaled loudly after he was found not guilty on the most serious felony sex assault charges. As he was found guilty on the misdemeanor charges, he slumped over and wept. His mother sobbed into a tissue.

The girl remained stoic in court after the verdict.

Prosecutors said Labrie, now 19, took his victim by surprise before she could resist or flee.

Labrie denied having intercourse with the girl, telling police that they partially disrobed, kissed and touched. He also acknowledged putting on a condom. Labrie said the freshman girl was eager to have sex, but the aspiring divinity student said he had a "moment of self-restraint" and stopped.

Labrie did testify that he bragged to friends that the two did have sex.

Prosecutors said Labrie raped the 15-year-old freshman as part of a St. Paul's School tradition known as Senior Salute in which seniors try to romance and have sex with underclassmen.

In graphic and sometimes tearful testimony, the girl, now 16, said she willingly went with Labrie to the rooftop of an academic building after he invited her to take part in Senior Salute, a tradition she said she knew about. But she said she was prepared for kissing at most.

Essentially, the jury by its verdicts signaled it didn't believe Labrie's assertion that there was no intercourse, but it also didn't believe her contention that it was against her will. For that, it found Labrie guilty of statutory rape, because she was underage and could not legally consent to sex.

Defense attorney J.W. Carney said Labrie was "devastated" by the verdict, though he said the jury acquitted Labrie of "every charge that he engaged in any conduct with the complainant without her consent."

"It's the force that drove this case. It's the argument that prosecutors made right until the end - 'this was a forcible rape,'" Carney said. "The jury came back and said, 'No it wasn't.'"

Before the verdict was read, the victim's father hugged prosecutors, saying, "Thank you for everything you've done."

The victim's family released a statement Friday, saying that while Labrie was not convicted on all charges, he was "held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter."

The statement blasted St. Paul's School, which they said "allowed and fostered a toxic culture that left our daughter and other students at risk to sexual violence."

"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," the statement read. "Both the school and these young men should bear the shame of these crimes along with Owen Labrie."

The family praised their daughter for her bravery in taking the stand.

"It is truly her courage that has made this measure of justice possible today," the statement read.

Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray said the verdict sends a message to the community: "If young people are sexually abused on campus, the perpetrator is going to be charged, prosecuted, sentenced and punished," Murray said.

During the trial, his accuser testified she fought to keep Labrie from removing her underwear during the encounter. She said she told Labrie "no" three times, and that she was "frozen" as she felt the pressure of him penetrating her and blamed herself for not doing more to try to kick and push him off.

Prosecutor Joseph Cherniske said the girl didn't report the rape for several days because she didn't want to disrupt her sister's graduation and because she "thought she could handle it all."

Rape case exposes alleged sexual culture at elite prep school

"She thought she could handle going with an 18-year-old boy for a Senior Salute," Cherniske said. "She thought she could say no by holding onto her clothing and saying no and make it stop."

In their final arguments Thursday, lawyers on both sides criticized Concord's St. Paul's School and offered different interpretations of email and Facebook messages the teens exchanged after the encounter in a campus building's dark and noisy mechanical room on May 30, 2014.

Carney told the jury the girl testified she had no recollection of her conversation with her best friend before meeting Labrie because to admit she stated graphically what conduct she was prepared to engage in "would destroy the whole image she'd been trying to create."

"If you conclude she was not being truthful then I submit it taints her entire testimony," Carney said. "In order to put forward this story, she was willing to tell a lie about a critical fact right in front of you."

After the trial, Carney said the most damning evidence against his client were Labrie's own statements he made to his friends in which he said Labrie boasted "about a sexual conquest that never happened."

He blasted St. Paul's school, describing both the accuser and Labrie as victims of the "Senior Salute" because he said the tradition is "something that's expected" at the school.

St. Paul's rector, Michael G. Hirschfeld, commended "the remarkable moral courage and strength demonstrated by the young woman who has suffered through this nightmare," and said the prep school is committed to teaching its students to act honorably.

After Labrie's arrest, school officials said they would expel anyone participating "in any game, 'tradition,' or practice of sexual solicitation or sexual conquest under any name" and throw out those possessing keys or access cards they aren't entitled to. Labrie was said to have used a key that was shared among seniors to get to restricted areas.

Labrie was bound for Harvard on a full scholarship and planned to take divinity school classes but testified his plans are on hold.

Sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 29.

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