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St. Paul's School: Rape trial spotlights culture at elite institution

Legal analyst Ari Melber discusses the upcoming rape trial of a former student at the elite St. Paul's School in New Hampshire.
/ Source: TODAY

The rape trial involving a prestigious New Hampshire prep school will most likely center on the alleged victim’s age, according to MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber.

“There are three charges relating to consent and rape. Three more that are just about her youth, meaning it doesn’t matter what she thought she was entering into — it was illegal even if she said it was okay,” Melber said Tuesday on TODAY.

The case centers on accusations against Owen Labrie, a graduate of the famed St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. Labrie is accused of raping a 15-year-old freshman on the roof of one of the school buildings in May 2014 during his senior year.

A jury was seated Monday. Labrie, now 19, has been charged with three counts of aggravated felony sex assault, four counts of misdemeanor sex assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He also is accused of using a computer to lure the girl to meet him via email and Facebook.

Labrie, who has pleaded not guilty, said he never had sex with his accuser.

The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H., Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, Owen Labrie, a former student, goes on trial Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, for taking part in a practice at the school known as “Senior Salute” where graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before the school year ends. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)Jim Cole / AP

The upcoming trial will cast a spotlight on the sexual environment of the prestigious boarding school, which boasts alumni such as Secretary of State John Kerry and numerous members of Congress.

One element being raised in the case is whether Labrie was engaging in an alleged tradition at the school called the “senior salute,” where seniors strive for sexual conquests with younger students.

Usually, arguing that the alleged victim knew about Labrie’s intentions is “typically considered a good defense for adults, when everything turns on consent.” That won't matter in this case, since the accuser is clearly underage, Melber said.