Owen Labrie took the stand Wednesday to counter allegations that he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl last year while both were students at the prestigious St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire.
On day six of the trial, 19-year-old Labrie described the circumstances and details of what he maintains was a consensual encounter with the girl.
It happened several nights before he graduated as part of a tradition called the “Senior Salute,” in which upperclassmen “score” with lowerclassmen.
Other former and current students have testified that “scoring” at St. Paul’s can mean cuddling, kissing, or more.
During his testimony, both the defense and the prosecution cited emails and Facebook messages that Labrie had exchanged with friends and with the girl before and after the encounter.
The prosecution repeatedly questioned Labrie about his and his friends’ use of terms like “slay” and “pork” when referring to the accuser in various messages—more than 100 of which he had deleted, and which were later retrieved by authorities.
“The use of social media in criminal trials has gone from zero to a hundred in the last five years,” Eric Wilson, a high-profile criminal defense attorney in New Hampshire, told The Daily Beast. “It’s a very useful tool to challenge someone’s credibility.”
Labrie has consistently denied having sex with his accuser.
The prosecution doggedly pressed him on the subject during his testimony, but Labrie didn’t waiver with the exception of admitting that he wanted to have sex with her only “for a few minutes” when they were together, then decided against it.
In a secluded room on campus that Labrie described as “a little romantic,” according to a reporter in the courtroom on Wednesday, Labrie said they began to kiss and that the girl showed no signs of resistance.
He “thought she was having a good time,” he said, and didn’t object when she told him she wanted to keep her bra on.
As the situation escalated, Labrie said he “thought to myself: we’re going to have sex.” So he pulled a condom from his wallet and put it on, at which point he said he had second thoughts.
“It wouldn’t have been a good move to have sex with this girl,” Labrie told the court when questioned by his attorney.
He claimed they continued kissing for a while after he put on a condom, and then they parted ways.
He was rushing to an a capella performance on campus, he said, when he realized his condom was still on.
When he returned to his room later, students in the dorm high-fived and congratulated him for “boning” the girl.
Labrie said he hadn’t told anyone they’d had sex at that point. He’d assumed the girl had told her friends, and that the resulting gossip had already made its way around campus.
This story was consistent with what he initially told Concord Police Detective Julie Curtin when asked why the girl would lie about them having sex: For some students, having sex with an upperclassmen could be a personal and social coup.
Labrie’s testimony dramatically contradicted that of his accuser, who claimed he “scraped” inside her with his fingers, licked her vagina, and forcibly had sex with her. He plainly and calmly denied all three accusations.
He also denied that the “Senior Salute” was in any way predatory, describing a tradition in stark contrast to the brutish sexual culture characterized by prosecutors.
A list of girls he and his friend had drawn up several months before graduation were “girls that we thought were cute.”
The defense asked Labrie to read email exchanges between him and the girl after the encounter, in which Labrie wrote to her that she was “an angel.” She responded: “You’re quite the angel yourself.”
He said he was “a little nervous” and “didn’t know exactly what she meant” when she asked via email if he had used a condom.
“My main concern was I wanted to make sure she wasn’t worried, that she wasn’t stressed about something,” he told the court.
Other email exchanges suggest they did not in fact have sex.
“When a boy actually takes your virginity, I hope it’s golden and I hope he treats you like a goddess,” Labrie wrote to her after the encounter. He also wrote that there’s a “difference between making love and messing around.”
“Thanks so much, Owen,” she replied. “I haven’t been making the most pleasing decisions to [her sister] lately.”
Labrie had previously testified that he and the girl’s sister once dated briefly (his email to the girl noted that her sister had physically confronted him).
On June 3, the same day police received a complaint, he emailed the girl that “people have been saying some scary things considering we never had sex.”
Labrie said he lied to his friends, four of whom testified earlier this week, telling them he’d had sex with her, “to make myself look better.”
Labrie claimed he was embarrassed that the encounter had ended awkwardly, so he told his friends they had sex because he “wanted everyone to think it had gone great.”
The defense is expected to make its closing arguments on Thursday.