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Teen Faces Alleged Attacker in Prep School Rape Trial

Accuser Testifies in Prep School Rape Trial 1:27

The alleged victim of a rape at an elite New England prep school took the stand on Tuesday, breaking down in tears as she identified the former student she says attacked her in a campus building in May 2014.

The 16-year-old girl struggled to keep her composure as she described how the encounter at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire began with a surprise email invitation from senior Owen Labrie. She took the date request to be part of a campus tradition called "senior salute," in which older boys pursued younger students in the days before graduation.

The girl, a freshman at the time, declined. "I wanted to put an end to it there because I thought his intentions were really really wrong," she testified.

But Labrie dispatched a mutual friend, who persuaded her to reconsider, she said.

"I was thinking, 'Okay, here's a person who has paid special attention to me, how nice,'" the girl recalled under questioning from Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle.

The day's proceedings ended there. The girl will return to the stand Wednesday morning to describe what happened next, after they ended up in a secluded area at the top of the Lindsay Center for Mathematics and Science.

She has told police that after making out, Labrie forced her to have sex despite her attempts to resist.

But Labrie, 19, has told police he did not have intercourse with her, and that their encounter was consensual.

He will take the stand later in the trial, his defense lawyer, Jay Carney, said in opening statements earlier Tuesday.

Image: St. Paul’s School
A rape trial is bringing focus to campus sex traditions among students at the elite St. Paul's School. Jim Cole / AP

In Ruffle's opening statements, the prosecutor said the girl met Labrie expecting some physical intimacy, but not sex. "She’s a 15-year-old girl without sexual experience," Ruffle said. "She tried to say no."

The "senior salute" is expected to play a significant role in the trial, with prosecutors arguing that it was the basis for Labrie's alleged luring of the girl, and defense lawyers saying it helped to show she was a willing participant.

"There's no question that (the accuser) knew exactly what Owen was doing by inviting her to get together," Carney told the jury on Tuesday. "Because it was a source of pride for girls at the school to be asked to participate in the 'senior salute.'"

Prosecutors are expected to call current and former students to testify about the sexual environment at the school.

Image: Owen Labrie
Owen Labrie last month in a Concord, New Hampshire, courtroom. Lynne Tuohy / AP

Labrie, a housing dorm prefect who said he planned to become a minister, is charged with three counts of aggravated felony sex assault, four counts of misdemeanor sex assault, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure her to meet him via email and Facebook. He has told police that he never had sexual intercourse with her — after putting on a condom, he experienced a "moment of divine inspiration" and stopped himself from going any farther.

The aspiring Harvard divinity student sat quietly at his lawyer's courtroom table, wearing glasses, a sport coat, slacks and a slightly unkempt haircut.

Ruffle began her opening statements by pointing him out to the jury.

"This is the face of Owen Labrie you're going to see in the next few days — probably not the face of an individual you think of when you think of a sexual assault," Ruffle said. "But when you hear the evidence that the state is going to present, we believe you're going to see a different side of the defendant."

Emails and Facebook messages, along with testimony from Labrie's friends, will show that he planned the meeting with his accuser for months, Ruffle said. She portrayed Labrie as a player in a "senior salute"-inspired competition in which seniors kept track of liaisons with younger girls, conquests they referred to as "slaying." The accuser was on Labrie's list of targets, Ruffle said.

The prosecutor acknowledged that the girl took a few days to go to her family or authorities. Officials collected some physical evidence — an abrasion, elements of DNA on her underwear — but that alone doesn't prove the rape charge, Ruffle said.

"Ultimately, this comes down to one thing," she said at the conclusion of her statement. "Do you believe (the girl)?"

Carney picked up from there, arguing that the girl was not to be believed.

Her courtroom testimony about the encounter, he predicted, would differ from her view of it in the emails and Facebook messages with Labrie.

"What’s more important than what she says today and tomorrow in this court, regarding whether she was a willing participant that night, was her words that night," Carney said. "And thank goodness the communication between Owen and (the accuser) right after they got together are all in writing."

He brought out an easel with printouts of their exchanges.

The messages shared by Carney showed that the girl asked that the encounter be kept secret. They discussed whether he used a condom, and whether she was on birth control, but there is no accusation of forced sex.

Ruffle, on the other hand, had a different interpretation of the electronic communication.

She said they helped prove that the two had intercourse.

After the opening statements, the jury was taken to the St. Paul's School campus, including the scene of the alleged rape.

Rape trial spotlights sexual culture at elite St. Paul’s prep school 5:05