Lawyers: Accuser’s testimony in prep school rape case is key

Owen Labrie looks around the courtroom during his trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H. During opening statements, prosecutors said Labrie raped a 15-year-old freshman as part of the "Senior Salute," a practice of sexual conquest at the prestigious St. Paul's School in Concord. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)
Owen Labrie looks around the courtroom during his trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H. During opening statements, prosecutors said Labrie raped a 15-year-old freshman as part of the "Senior Salute," a practice of sexual conquest at the prestigious St. Paul's School in Concord. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the trial of a prep school graduate charged with raping a freshman girl as part of a campus practice of sexual conquest told jurors on Tuesday the case hinges on the accuser’s credibility.

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle said in her opening statement that Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, raped the 15-year-old girl at a campus building as part of the Senior Salute at the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Concord. She referred to the practice as “the context for this entire event.”

On the witness stand Tuesday, the accuser broke down crying and pointed at Labrie when asked if he was in the courtroom. The petite student, her ash blonde hair pulled back from her forehead, told jurors the two weren’t friends and he was a classmate of her older sister.

She said she thought his invitation to a Senior Salute, when seniors seek out young students as sexual conquests, was “disgusting” because it was written so sappily.

“I thought his intentions were really wrong,” she said, but she reconsidered when a male friend persuaded her.

The teen said Senior Salute was well known on campus but she didn’t think it involved any special expectations.

Defense lawyer J.W. Carney said Labrie will testify he had consensual sexual contact with the girl two days before he graduated last year but they did not have intercourse. Carney told jurors that email and Facebook exchanges between the two will show the girl met Labrie, who was 18 at the time, willingly and bantered with him after their encounter.

Carney, who minimized the Senior Salute element, read to jurors from a string of emails between the two before and immediately after the encounter. In them, the girl agreed to meet Labrie “only if it’s our little secret.”

In an email exchange after the encounter, Carney told jurors, she wrote: “You’re not so bad yourself. I also lost my earring up there.”

“Does this sound like texting where she is unwilling that night?” Carney asked.

“When you’ve seen all the evidence, had a chance to study these emails and text messages and you’ve had a chance to hear from Owen himself, you will have reasonable doubt about what happened,” Carney said.

Ruffle said the girl would testify the two had removed some clothing and were kissing when Labrie became more assertive. The girl said no and clutched her underwear with both hands to try to stop Labrie, but he forced himself on her, Ruffle said.

“She’s going to testify the defendant became very aggressive, very fast,” Ruffle told jurors. “He pulled her bra down, he bit her breast and it was painful.”

“She’s a 15 year-old girl without sexual experience,” Ruffle said. “She tried to say no, tried to use her physical conduct to let him know this was not OK.”

After opening statements, jurors visited the campus at St. Paul’s, whose alumni include Secretary of State John Kerry. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau also is an alum, as are 13 U.S. ambassadors, three Pulitzer Prize winners and sons of the Astor and Kennedy families. The school enrolls about 530 students and admitted girls for the first time in 1971. Tuition, room and board costs $53,810 a year.

According to police affidavits, Labrie spoke freely about the Senior Salute and about a contest in which seniors tried to have sex with the most underclassmen. He said that as a student leader he tried to educate others against the practice. He was given the Rector’s Award at graduation for “selfless devotion to school activities.”

Ruffle also told jurors that Labrie on March 31, 2014, made a list of girls he considered for “possible Senior Salutes” and the only name in capital letters was that of the accuser.

Carney said after court he’s looking forward to his chance to question the accuser.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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