New lawyer for Owen Labrie as he asks Supreme Court for new trial

  • Owen Labrie, 21, puts his hand to his forehead at the end of a three-day evidentiary hearing on whether he will be granted a retrial at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Labrie, a prep school graduate convicted of using a computer to lure an underage girl for sex returned to court this week for a hearing on whether his lawyers damaged his case. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • St. Paul’s School graduate Owen Labrie raises his hand to be sworn in prior to testifying in his trial at Merrimack Superior Court in Concord in August 2015. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 1/17/2018 6:10:35 PM

The attorney who argued unsuccessfully that Owen Labrie had received ineffective counsel leading to his 2015 sexual assault conviction will not represent him before the New Hampshire Supreme Court on his request for a new trial.

Nashua attorney Robin Melone filed a motion to withdraw as Labrie’s lawyer in December, a request that was recently granted by Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi. As a result, a public defender will represent Labrie when he challenges Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler’s decision not to grant him a new trial.

The high court accepted the case in October, more than five months after Smukler ruled that Labrie had failed to prove his high-profile legal team, led by famed Boston attorney J.W. Carney, was “constitutionally ineffective.”

Labrie’s argument summarizing the facts of his case as well as the legal reasoning behind his request for a new trial was due later this month. However, the court has since vacated that deadline and suspended any further proceedings to allow for a new attorney to step in.

In March 2016, Labrie filed a direct appeal of his convictions, including a felony computer acts prohibited charge that mandates he register as a sex offender for life. A jury found Labrie guilty of using the internet to solicit sex from a freshman as part of the “Senior Salute,” a game of sexual conquest at St. Paul’s School in Concord. Attorney Jaye Rancourt, who provided local counsel to Labrie’s out-of-state trial team, is representing Labrie on his direct appeal, which is also pending before the Supreme Court.

This is not the first time Labrie has sought new legal representation. In the three-and-a-half years since his arrest, he has been represented by a handful of different attorneys. Before Carney, Labrie parted ways with at least two previous attorneys: Jim Moir and Michael Ramsdell. Ramsdell asked to withdraw in February 2015, claiming Labrie no longer wanted him on the case. Moir recused himself months earlier, citing a breakdown in communication. Labrie was also advised at one point by a New York attorney named Gordon Walker.

Carney, who defended James “Whitey” Bulger during his 2013 federal trial, led Labrie’s trial team in August 2015. Labrie hired Carney after prominent members of the St. Paul’s community donated more than $100,000 to fund his defense. Carney was joined for a time by Rancourt and attorney Samir Zaganjori, who was also employed at the Boston law firm.

Most recently, Melone represented Labrie during his fight for a new trial in Merrimack County Superior Court. A three-day hearing was held in Concord in February, during which Rancourt, Carney and Zaganjori testified. While Rancourt made impassioned claims under oath about how she and others had failed Labrie, both Carney and Zaganjori said they had effectively represented Labrie at trial.

A highly contested issue in the case is whether the emails between Labrie and the girl passed through St. Paul’s privately hosted intranet, as opposed to the more publicly accessible internet. If they stayed on the intranet, Melone argued, Labrie was wrongfully charged.

Prosecutors have stood by their decision to charge Labrie under the computer acts prohibited statute.

Labrie was also convicted of misdemeanor statutory rape and endangering the welfare of a child. He is out of jail on bail conditions pending the appeals.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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