CONCORD, N.H. — The prep school graduate accused of raping a younger student at the elite St. Paul’s School dropped his head and sobbed for the first time since the start of his trial: He had been found not guilty on Friday of felony sexual assault charges, but was convicted of having sex with a girl who was below the age of consent.
The accuser sat in the front row, tightly flanked by her family, her father’s hand on her head, her mother’s arm around her shoulders. She cried, too, in the main hall of the drab courthouse here, before stepping out the back door.
So ended the trial of Owen Labrie, 19, and with it a rare exploration of the backslapping sexual culture among some students at one of the nation’s most exclusive boarding schools. Over nearly two weeks, jurors listened to prosecutors and defense lawyers ask witnesses about a custom called the “senior salute,” in which older students at St. Paul’s propositioned younger classmates for a last-chance encounter before graduation.
But at its core, the case was about an intimate encounter last year between a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old acquaintance, and whether she consented as it escalated.
The girl spent more time on the stand than Mr. Labrie. She said that he had bitten her and that he had scraped inside her vagina. She said she had told him “no” more than once.
Mr. Labrie said the encounter had been consensual. He said it stopped well short of sex.
And after about seven hours of deliberations over two days, the jury appeared to dismiss Mr. Labrie’s insistence that he did not penetrate the girl in any way, but found that the state had not proved that what happened was against the girl’s expressed wishes.
The nine men and three women rejected the more serious accusations of aggravated sexual assault — as well as a misdemeanor assault charge of biting the girl’s chest — but convicted Mr. Labrie of three misdemeanors related to the girl’s age and involving penetration with his penis, mouth and finger. He was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and a felony charge involving use of a computer to lure a minor.
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