Law professor on elite boarding school rape case: 'It's a rational verdict'

A jury’s decision to find a former prep school student guilty on several sexual assault misdemeanours and not guilty on three felony sexual assault charges is “a rational verdict,” according to a University of New Hampshire law professor.

Over the course of the two-week trial, it became clear that Owen Labrie, now 19 years old, courted a 15-year-old female freshman when he was a senior at elite boarding school St. Paul’s School.

While both acknowledge some consensual touching and kissing, she claimed he raped her by forcing sexual intercourse on her without consent. He denied the two ever had sex, though.

“It sounds like they rejected that portion of his testimony where he said they did not engage in sexual intercourse,” UNH law professor Buzz Scherr told Business Insider. “By the same token, they had clearly more uncertainty as to whether she consented or not.”

By finding Labrie guilty on the misdemeanour counts, the jury acknowledged that despite his denial they believed the girl that there was sexual penetration. The girl testified that Labrie penetrated her with his penis, mouth, and fingers, which she physically resisted and tried to stop by saying “no” at least three times.

The acquittal on the felony charges though, according to Scherr, showed that “the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not consent.”

“That’s really all we can say for certain,” he said.

The jury’s decision was likely influenced by the testimony they heard over the past two weeks, according to Scherr.

“I am sure that the impression she created and the impression he created by each of their testimonies made the difference in the case,” he said.

Additionally, having Labrie’s friends testify that he claimed to them that he had “slayed” the female student may have had a big impact. “Traditionally, juries respond to testimony like that,” Scherr said.

Owen Labrie St. Paul's SchoolVia NECN LivestreamOwen Labrie cries in court after the verdict is read Friday.

Although Labrie was not convicted of the most serious charges he faced, he may still face jail time. He is guilty of three misdemeanours related to sexual assault, one misdemeanour related to endangering the welfare of a child, and one class B felony for using a computer to seduce a minor.

Assuming the guilty verdict holds up on appeal, Scherr explained, the former St. Paul’s student could be sentenced to 3.5-7 years in a state prison for the felony and one year in jail for each of the misdemeanours. He will also be placed on a sex offender registry for life.

“There’s no question he engaged in crimes and had intention to engage in crimes,” Scherr said.

Labrie was certainly aware of the female student’s age and seems to have targeted her as part of school tradition called “senior salute,” where older students try to “score” with younger students.

“There’s a piece of this that feels like he was engaging in predatory behaviour,” Scherr said. “It certainly by the testimony smelled a little bit like predatory behaviour.”

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