Owen Labrie Found Not Guilty of Felony Sexual Assault in Elite New England Prep School Rape Case


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The teenage girl who charged Owen Labrie with raping her when she was 15 as part of a game of sexual conquest at New Hampshire’s St. Paul preparatory school says she is leaving the courthouse today with “her head held high,” according to Laura Dunn, a spokesperson for the victim and her family.

After less than eight hours of deliberation, the jury of nine men and three womenfound Labrie, now 19, guilty of three misdemeanor statutory rape counts, a misdemeanor of endangering a child, and a felony charge of using a computer to “seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child.”

In finding him not guilty of the three counts of felony sex assault, the jury ruled that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex between the two teens wasn’t consensual.

Labrie sat slouched in his chair as the verdict was read, stoically looking forward. His mother, a schoolteacher in Vermont, leaned over in her seat with her hands in her face and sobbed. The victim and her family sat with their arms wrapped around each other on the same bench a couple yards away.

Later, outside the courtroom, the victim, along with about a dozen family members embraced and left the courthouse.

During the trial the courtroom heard details of the “Senior Salute”—a tradition at the elite prep school where graduating seniors reach out to younger students with invitations to hook up. These encounters were reportedly scored and tallied on a school wall. It was in this context that Labrie emailed the girl and convinced her to meet in an isolated room in an attic.

This felony charge Labrie was found guilty of can carry three to seven years in prison, while the misdemeanor statutory rape charges carry up to a year each. The New Hampshire Department of Correction is currently undertaking a pre-sentencing investigation.

But prosecutor Catherine J. Ruffle says the felony means Labrie will spend the rest of his life registered as a tier II sex offender. He can register for that status to be lifted after 15 years. He is currently out on $15,000 bail, and had to surrender his passport and submit to a curfew.

The defense argued that Labrie never penetrated the girl, and the sperm found on her underwear likely came from precum expelled while they were dry-humping.

The girl’s story was complicated by seemingly friendly and flirtatious messages she sent to Labrie before and after the incident. She said she willingly went to meet Labrie, but wasn’t comfortable going past first base. When Labrie pressured her to go further, the prosecution claimed that the girl said “no” three times before freezing in terror. Ultimately, the jury ruled that her testimony was not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not consent.

Through Dunn, the girl said the convictions today were a “step in the right direction, even if it’s not complete justice.”

“We hope this will send a message to future victims, that they will have the strength to come forward,” said Ruffle.

Former federal judge Nancy Gertner isn’t sure this is a clear victory for the prosecution, as the jury acquitted Labrie of the felony sexual assault charges. “The danger in this kind of verdict is if people will take it as an indication that this kind of behavior is OK rather than it doesn’t meet the proof of a reasonable doubt,” she told VICE.

But the fact that this case was brought to court at all shows an evolution in how prosecutors see rape cases, added Gertner, who is now a professor at Harvard Law School. The victim took a few days to report the incident, and there is evidence that she called him an “angel,” even after they had sex.

“Ten years ago the ambiguity and evidence would have led a prosecutor to not have declined to prosecute at all,” she said of the victim’s seemingly mixed messages.

“Now we know better,” said Gertner, adding that the victim’s reactions aren’t unusual reactions for someone who has been assaulted.

Though there is still an “awkwardness” in date rape cases where the verdict often rests on the jury’s preconceived notions of what counts as rape and what counts as consent, said Gertner.

“The jury imposes their own social values on this and that’s going to go on forever.”

The victim’s family says while the verdict is not a complete victory, they are pleased with the outcome.

“This conviction allows him to take ownership for his actions and the harm he has caused,” said the victims’ parents in a statement, adding that there is “no joy in this outcome. Our daughter can never get back what she has lost.”

The victim’s family was also highly critical of St. Paul’s School, which the family says “fostered a toxic culture.” Labrie’s peers “laughed and they joked with Owen Labrie about slaying our daughter,” they said.

Defense attorney J.W. Carney says his client Labrie is “devastated,” and was critical of the Senior Salute as well.

“It damaged both Owen and [the girl],” said Carney in his closing statement.

In a statement released by St. Paul President James Waterbury and Michael G. Hirschfeld, the school’s rector, they say the school has since the charges were first brought against Labrie they have begun addition and education and prevention programing on “harassment, bullying, gender-based violence, and substance abuse.”

Source: http://www.vice.com/read/owen-labrie-found-not-guilty-of-felony-sexual-assault-in-elite-new-england-prep-school-rape-case-828


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