When Owen Labrie graduated from the elite St. Paul’s School in 2014, he planned to study theology at Harvard University in the fall. He was accepted as a member of the Class of 2018.
The summer before he was to start at Harvard, however, Labrie was taken into police custody and charged with multiple accounts of sexual assault.
Labrie, now 19 years old, was found guilty last month of several misdemeanor counts for having sex with a 15-year-old female freshman when he was a senior at St. Paul’s – charges he denied during the trial. He was found not guilty of several more serious felony rape charges.
Almost a year before his trial even started, however, the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson reported in September 2014 that Labrie was no longer enrolled at the college. His admissions offer, it seemed, had been revoked after the revelation that Labrie was accused of sexual assault.
“Harvard admission is contingent on five conditions enumerated for students upon their acceptance – including one which stipulates admission will be revoked ‘if you engage in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character,'” Harvard director of undergraduate admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis told The Crimson in 2003, referring to the case of an accepted student accused of plagiarism.
The Crimson cited this statement in 2014 when reporting on Labrie.
On Friday, The Crimson reported that legal experts supported Harvard’s policy, noting that a private university was distinct from the federal legal and judicial system.
“Innocent until proven guilty is a concept and standard within the criminal justice system and does not restrict a private school unless that school has voluntarily bound itself to such a high and exacting standard of fairness,” Harvey Silverglate, a local lawyer who has advised Harvard students, told The Crimson in an email.
Laura Bennett, the president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, told The Crimson that Harvard’s decision may have been influenced by the nature of the accusation against Labrie, citing federal Title IX policies that make colleges responsible for protecting students from sexual violence.
These concerns may have been applicable in the Labrie case. The freshman victim was prominently featured in capital letters on a list of girls for his “senior salute” – “a school ritual in which older students proposition younger ones for as much intimacy as they can get away with: a kiss, touching, or more,” according to The New York Times.
Senior male students allegedly compete to see who could “score” with the most younger females at St. Paul’s, keeping track of the sexual encounters on an online messaging board, according to the Associated Press. Labrie allegedly told police he was “trying to be number one.”
Aside from the misdemeanor charges, Labrie was also found guilty of using the internet to seduce a minor, a Class B felony. He faces up to 11 years in prison when he is sentenced in late October.
Harvard representative Rachael Dane sent Business Insider the following statement in August regarding Owen Labrie:
While we do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under certain conditions, which are clearly expressed to students upon their acceptance. An offer of admission may be rescinded if a student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character. There is no student by that name enrolled at Harvard College.