The Rape Trial of Owen Labrie began this week with opening statements and testimony of the complaining witness in the case.
In this Blog, I will review what I see as the strength of the Defense case and why I would expect the jury to find Owen not guilty on the Rape Charge.
The case revealed a disturbing culture at St. Paul Boarding, a New Hampshire prep school, which students referred to as a senior salute. The defense tried to downplay this culture, which ultimately is when older students attempt to ‘hook up’ with one freshman student before graduation, but it is clear that the school prompted a culture degrading to its younger female students.
The real leverage point that the defense has in the case that ultimately, may be enough to create reasonable doubt, is a series of text message that were sent after the incident.
Other points raised during her cross examination that will make it difficult for a conviction is her testimony that she was laughing during the encounter. She testified that she froze and that the laughter was out of nervousness and that she did not know what to do. It is questionable how the jury may interpret this. It has also been noted by the DailyMail that the complaining witness said that she was excited to have attention from Owen, and was unsure if she should feel ‘proud or happy’, over what went on between them. To find out more about this, click here.
After the alleged incident, the defendant sent a text to the complaining witness stating he loves her and she writes “good” and “ha, ha”. The defense claim that these texts show she could not have been raped and that she, in fact, liked the attention of an older student.
While the cross examination, casts serious questions that would seem to create reasonable doubt, the defendant is expected to testify. Based on the opening statement, it appears he will claim that they did not have sex and that they embraced with their clothes on, after presumably changing is mind about wanting to have sex. The jury may consider the fact that the girl was only 15 at the time in assessing whether her actions were just the product of being young and in shock or someone trying to create attention upon herself. Next week, it is expected forensic evidence suggesting a rape will be presented. This, if convincing, would certainly enhance the credibility of the complaining witness.
In regards to the end of the case, it appears that it will be difficult for a jury to say beyond a reasonable doubt that a rape happened. While the jury is likely to overlook some gaps in the testimony of the victim, given the legal standard, the jury would be compelled to find Owen not guilty as the conversation after does raise questions, uncertainty, and doubt that require an acquittal in a criminal case.
For further reading on the trial, the New York Times had an article detailing the accounts of the trial by Jess Bidgood. To See a brief video of excerpts from the cross examination of the victim, MyFoxBoston reporter Crystal Haynes had a video clip describing what she witnessed in the courtroom.