By Ted Siefer
CONCORD, N.H. (Reuters) - Two very different versions of a sexual encounter last year between two pupils at an elite New Hampshire prep school emerged on Tuesday, the opening day of the rape trial of one of the students.
A state prosecutor and an attorney for the defendant, Owen Labrie, 19, of Tunbridge, Vermont, made opening statements at Merrimack Superior Court in Concord, New Hampshire, where Labrie faces charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman girl days before he graduated in 2014 from St. Paul's School.
The prep school counts among its graduates numerous prominent U.S. business and political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The trial is shining a spotlight on the culture of St. Paul's, and specifically a tradition described as a "senior salute," in which younger students have sexual encounters with graduating seniors. Labrie had initially told police that there was a competition among students to see who could "score" with the most girls.
"This is the face of Owen Labrie," prosecutor Catherine Ruffle said. "It's probably not the face you think of when you think of sexual assault, but when you see and hear the evidence, we believe you will see a different side of the defendant."
She said that the victim had agreed to meet with Labrie, but had not expected to have intercourse.
Labrie's attorney, J.W. Carney, insisted that the encounter between the two never reached the point of intercourse. He said any sexual interaction was consensual, pointing to emails and Facebook messages between the alleged victim and Labrie that were mutually romantic and flirtatious, and occasionally written in French.
"There's no question [she] knew exactly what she was doing," said Carney, whose prior clients have included Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger. "It was a source of pride for girls at the school to participate in senior salute."
The victim took the witness stand briefly on Tuesday, identifying Labrie before breaking down in tears and being excused. She is due to resume testimony on Wednesday.
Labrie is also expected to testify, Carney said.
In a statement on its website, St. Paul's said: "Allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our school or our values, our rules, or the people that represent our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff."
Labrie has pleaded not guilty to three felony sexual assault charges, which each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Walsh)