CONCORD, N.H. -- A former student charged with raping a freshman two days before he graduated from an elite New Hampshire prep school took the stand as the defense opened its case Wednesday, describing his relationship with his accuser as "flirty."
Owen Labrie, now 19, was a senior at St. Paul's School when a 15-year-old girl accused him of raping her as part of Senior Salute, a school tradition in which seniors try to romance and have intercourse with underclassmen before leaving campus.
The defense contends the two had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse. Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, testified Wednesday that he sent the girl an email inviting her to Senior Salute because he liked her.
"I wanted to ask her out," he said.
Labrie was clad in a white button down, red tie and blue blazer and remained confident and collected throughout his testimony. He claimed his relationship with the freshman girl was "great," and described their interactions as "pretty flirty," saying that they might wave to each other or exchange a "quick hug" when passing on campus.
The girl left the courtroom in tears as Labrie began reading from messages they exchanged just before their encounter. The emails and Facebook communications were projected on a screen in the courtroom. In one exchange, the girl says Labrie's plan to meet "sounds perfect."
Last week, Labrie's accuser testified that she twice told him "no" during their encounter and that she felt "frozen" when he became aggressive. Other students testified this week that Labrie -- then 18 -- was competing with friends to see how many girls they could "score" with before graduation and described a range of sexual encounters from kissing to intercourse that were part of Senior Salute.
One said Labrie initially told friends "with a smirk on his face" that he did not have sex with the girl but later told him privately that he did.
On Tuesday, Concord police Detective Julie Curtin testified that Labrie told her he had a playful encounter with the girl, who is now 16, but stopped short of having sex after a moment of "divine inspiration."
But defense attorney J.W. Carney suggested police had treated his client unfairly, trying to catch him off-guard by driving to Vermont to interview him and speaking to him without his parents present.
Investigators first met Labrie and his mother at a coffee shop, but after detectives said it would be better to talk at the police station, he agreed to be interviewed without his mother for nearly four hours.
The case has cast a critical light on St. Paul's School, which boasts as alumni an international roster of senators, congressmen, ambassadors, Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates and other notables.