Labrie sentenced to one year in jail as St. Paul’s rape case draws to an emotional close

Last modified: 10/31/2015 12:25:35 AM
Owen Labrie, the former St. Paul’s School standout whose rapid, public fall from grace shed light on the pernicious sexual culture at one of the country’s premier boarding schools, was sentenced Thursday to one year in jail for an unsanctioned, non-consensual sexual encounter he had with a 15-year-old female student. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

After nearly three hours of input from attorneys and statements from the victim and her family, in which the girl described the past 17 months as the “scariest, hardest days of my life,” Judge Larry Smukler ordered Labrie, 20, to serve three concurrent 12-month sentences in the Merrimack County jail. In addition, the judge imposed five years of probation and completion of a psychosexual evaluation.

Labrie completed one of those evaluations last year, and it found him at a low risk to reoffend. But prosecutors contended Thursday that the psychologist who administered the test did not have all of the information that was presented to jurors in August.

As the sentence was announced, Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vt., stood rigid and displayed little emotion, much the same as he did throughout the two-week trial. He did not address the court or the victim and her family. Speaking later, outside Merrimack County Superior Court, his attorney, J.W. Carney, portrayed Labrie as remorseful but also committed to his testimony at trial, in which he claimed the encounter was consensual and had stopped short of penetration.

Carney called the sentence “not overly harsh,” though he had sought probation. County prosecutors had pressed for prison time and sex offender treatment while incarcerated. With good behavior, Labrie will be released after eight months.

Labrie remained free on bail at his mother’s home in Vermont pending appeal. He was, however, required to register Thursday as a sex offender, a branding that will last indefinitely under the terms of his lone felony conviction for computer acts prohibited, which arose from the electronic messages he and the girl exchanged before the encounter.

The defense failed to persuade Smukler to dismiss that charge after trial, and it has said it will appeal his ruling to the state Supreme Court. It has also said it would explore pursuing legislative intervention or clemency from the governor. Legal experts say both are unlikely to succeed, at least in the near term.

By law, Labrie can petition to have his name removed from the public registry after 15 years, but, as Carney asserted Thursday, he will remain a sex offender and subject to the same restrictions.

In handing down his sentence, Smukler unequivocally dismissed the narrative put forth by Labrie’s defense – that he too was a victim, an inexperienced adolescent who, like all students at St. Paul’s, had been failed by a lack of guidance and supervision from faculty.

“I do not consider you to be a victim,” Smukler said. “I do consider your family to be a victim – but not you.”

“You were a leader,” he added, describing Labrie’s status on campus. “Whatever the tradition of the ‘senior salute’ was, or is, or may have been at St. Paul’s, you as a leader certainly took it to another level.”

Prosecutors have previously depicted Labrie as the head of a group of licentious male students, distributing lewd messages that routinely disparaged women, and crafting a list of planned sexual conquests months before his graduation last year. The victim, then a freshman whom he barely knew, was placed at the top.

But on Thursday, Deputy County Attorney Catherine Ruffle insisted that what was presented at trial was just the beginning. In court and in a sentencing memorandum submitted earlier in the day, she said Labrie and the others “ritualized” the senior salute, in which graduating students proposition younger students, at least sometimes for sex.

As part of the “game,” Ruffle said, they shared keys with one another to restricted rooms on campus, as well as a paper mache “slaying” mask. In his published yearbook messages, Labrie referenced the emerging tradition, saying “Slaymaker ‘47: nuff said.”

But it was a series of previously undisclosed electronic messages from Labrie that presented perhaps the most damning glimpse into his final months at St. Paul’s. In one, he wrote that his preferred treatment of girls was to “feign intimacy . . . then stab them in the back . . . THROW EM IN THE DUMPSTER . . . I lie in bed with them . . . and pretend like I’m in love.”

Others, which Ruffle and the girl’s father referenced in court Thursday, were too graphic to recite.

Ruffle pressed for a state prison sentence, arguing that Labrie lacked “candor” during the trial and had not once acknowledged his crimes or the irreparable harm they have caused the victim and her family.

“The defendant chose to take the stand,” she said. “He lied to your honor and the jury.”

While jurors acquitted Labrie of the most serious sexual assault charges, they found him guilty of having sex with someone too young to give consent, and of endangering the welfare of a child, both misdemeanors.

Carney responded that the encounter was as consensual as it could have been for two young students at the height of adolescence. He noted that the victim was just months shy of turning 16, the state’s legal age of consent.

“The inescapable conclusion is that this was a consensual encounter between two teenagers,” he said. “It was without surprise, and it was not without her consent.”

The girl said during trial that she had tried repeatedly to rebuff Labrie’s intimate advances, but felt overwhelmed and inexperienced. She did not attend Thursday’s hearing, but in a pre-recorded video, she said she struggles with nausea and regular flashbacks to that night, “where I keep thinking to myself, why didn’t I kick or push or scream, or do anything?

“Why couldn’t I move?”

She recalled trying to return to St. Paul’s last fall, only to be subjected to emotional abuse from peers and older friends of Labrie.

“What he did to me made me feel like I didn’t belong on this planet,” the girl said. “And that I would be better off dead than have to deal with the terrible things that every day were thrown in my direction, after doing the right thing.”

“It’s terrible to say,” she added, “but I know why people don’t come forward.”

She and her family have relocated from abroad since the case opened last summer, and her father told the court that the process has had a devastating effect on each of their lives.

“Every single day, every single second, I feel a profound sense of loss,” he said, reading from a statement. “It creates an empty void inside of me where I used to feel hope, joy and trust. Labrie’s actions and subsequent lies and manipulation have caused us so much needless pain and loss. I feel extreme sorrow for not only what my own daughter has gone through, but also for the other nameless, faceless victims of sexual assault – at St. Paul’s School, in New Hampshire, and around the country.”

Despite that, he said, there was reason to push on.

“My little girl stood up to this entitled young man,” he said. “She stood up to the entitled culture of St. Paul’s. She stood up to the rape culture that exists in our society, that allows ‘boys to be boys’ – and somehow says it’s okay for men to do irreparable harm to girls.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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