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Aug 21, 2015 7:46 PM

UNH Law Professor explains fascination with Owen Labrie case


CONCORD - UNH Law Professor Buzz Scherr says people around the world are talking about the Owen Labrie rape trial because there are a number of elements that fascinate the average person.

"You know, a graduating senior expressing interest in a woman who has just completed her freshman year. There's a power dynamic there," Scherr told NH1 News Friday.

The fact that both Labrie and his alleged victim attended St. Paul's School, a prestigious boarding school with an A-list of alumni, including Secretary of State John Kerry, also draws people in.

"We're curious whether rich people, smart people, behave differently than us," Scherr explained. "The other wrinkle is that there is a culture at St. Paul's that may exist in other elite schools."

Scherr was referring to the Senior Salute, a decades old tradition where a number graduating men compete to "slay" or "score" with as many girls as they can. The young men used to keep track of their points by marking them behind a washing machine. When the school kept painting them over, they moved to an online forum, Labrie told police.

Scherr said that other than that, the case, in his opinion, is a classic he said/she said story. But it has people talking.

This week, jurors heard from Labrie's alleged victim, who said he sent her a Senior Salute message just before the end of the 2014 school year. She denied the email request to hang out, suspicious of his motives.

But a boy her own age, who lived in the same dorm as Labrie, talked her into rethinking that response. She eventually accepted, and on May 30, at approximately 9:15 p.m., the duo met at the school's math and science building. Labrie used keys that had been passed down to him, and broke into a part of the building where students are not allowed.

The teen girl, who is now 16-years-old, was emotional as she told the jury that Labrie brought her onto the rooftop, and then back into a dark mechanical room where he allegedly bit and spit on her, as he raped her.

Labrie's attorney Jay Carney has infuriated women with his comments that a popular student athlete like his client would "be a catch" for a freshman girl. During cross-examination, he insinuated that the teen shaved to prepare for a sexual encounter.

Carney also turned heads when he said underclassmen at the prep school were "honored" to be chosen for the Senior Salute.

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle says Labrie's alleged victim was targeted because she was worth more points in the sordid sex game. Labrie had been with an older relative of hers.

Labrie, who was a scholarship student and prefect that planned to study at Harvard University, told police he risked it all because he wanted to win the game. Ruffle says dorms, athletic teams and individuals compete against each other during the Senior Salute.

St. Paul's says it will tackle the "hook-up" culture on campus, according to the Associated Press.

Scherr says other private and public high schools should follow suit, and look into their own student culture. He believes St. Paul's is not the only institution where upperclassmen prey on girls who are not yet 16-years-old, the age of consent in New Hampshire.

Labrie could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of all three charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault. He also faces charges of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, statutory rape and prohibited use of the Internet.

Jurors are expected to return to the Concord courthouse on Monday at 9 a.m.

Labrie, of Tunbridge, VT, will take the witness stand in his own defense, and the trial is expected to wrap up on Thursday.

Follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.


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