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Owen Labrie to begin serving remainder of 12-month sentence the day after Christmas

  • Owen Labrie leaves Merrimack County Superior Court after his ammended sentence hearing on Tuesday in Concord. Labrie was ordered to serve the remaining 10 months of his sentence beginning Dec. 26. He is followed by his attorney, Jaye Rancourt. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Owen Labrie enters Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord N.H. on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 as Labrie’s lawyer asks judge for ammended sentence. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Owen Labrie (right) and his attorney, Jaye Rancourt, appear in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/18/2018 4:43:50 PM

A judge allowed Owen Labrie to walk out of the Merrimack County courthouse Tuesday without handcuffs, giving him the chance to celebrate Christmas at home before heading back to jail to serve the remainder of his 12-month sentence.

The St. Paul’s School graduate must report the morning of Dec. 26 to the Merrimack County jail in Boscawen, where he previously served 63 days of his sentence for repeatedly violating his bail conditions in the sexual assault case. In the 947 days since his release, Labrie has been on electronic monitoring at his family’s Tunbridge, Vt., home, where he has worked with several attorneys to file two appeals in the state’s highest court and to ask for a reduction of his one-year sentence.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently upheld Labrie’s felony conviction for using a computer to solicit sex from a 15-year-old classmate, but has yet to rule on his claims of ineffective counsel. Labrie was delivered a second blow Tuesday when the trial court judge denied his request for a reduced sentence that would have meant no further jail time.

“I think given the crimes and the circumstances that it’s just not appropriate to amend the sentence at this time,” Judge Larry Smukler ruled.

He also denied the defense’s request for Labrie to be allowed out of jail on work release.

As the high court’s decision in his last appeal looms, Labrie, now 23, will begin serving the roughly 10 months he has left of a 12-month jail sentence that was handed down more than three years ago.

A jury found Labrie guilty of three counts of sexual assault and one count of endangering the welfare of a child following a high-profile trial in Concord in August 2015. He was also convicted of a charge of “certain uses of a computer services prohibited” for using the internet to lure the girl as part of the now-infamous “Senior Salute,” in which upperclassmen competed for intimate encounters with younger pupils. The felony conviction requires him to register as a sex offender for life.

In court Tuesday, defense attorney Jaye Rancourt argued that Labrie is deeply remorseful for his actions and has matured into a young man unrecognizable from the one arrested back in spring 2014 on charges of sexual assault. She insisted St. Paul’s was in part to blame for allowing “a highly sexualized culture” that fostered the behavior shown by Labrie and others.

“I believe that the Mr. Labrie who sits here before you today is a very different Mr. Labrie individual than you met four years ago in your courtroom,” Rancourt said.

She said Labrie’s incarceration for two months in 2016 was a “wake up call” and since then he has taken steps to better himself, including by finding and maintaining employment. Incarceration at this time would serve no purpose, she argued.

But a county prosecutor strongly disagreed Tuesday, saying that the purposes of sentencing, to include punishment, rehabilitation and deterrence, have not been met.

“The court does not have the authority to amend the defendant’s sentence in this circumstance,” Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Joseph Cherniske told Smukler.

He did not contest Rancourt’s point that Labrie has been of good behavior since his release from jail on May 16, 2016, on conditions of strict supervision. However, he argued that a defendant’s adherence to court orders while on bail does not warrant less time served.

Cherniske previously told the court in his written objection that the county attorney’s office contacted the victim’s family, who found it “egregious” that Labrie was seeking to reduce his jail sentence to just 63 days.

Smukler made note of that objection Tuesday, saying he considers victim input of great importance. He said the victim deserves justice.

Chessy Prout, who shed her anonymity in 2016 as the victim in the case, said in a statement to the Monitor late Tuesday that she is grateful to Smukler for his ruling.

“Today’s decision is important because it shows survivors that people are listening, even if it takes several years for a single case to be resolved,” she said. “The only way we will ever truly change rape culture is by holding perpetrators and the institutions that are complicit to these crimes responsible.”

Prout published a memoir, I Have the Right To: A High School Survivors Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, in March, giving readers an unfiltered look into her assault, the criminal trial and her decision to go public. Her story was told through the lens of her 15-year-old self with reference to diary entries she kept at the time.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Rancourt said she understood Smukler needed to take into account victim input but accused Prout of changing her position on the appropriate sentence for Labrie.

“She also published a book that said I would have been okay with an apology, so that’s a statement she made in a book and now she’s saying I want him incarcerated. I understand the judge took it into consideration but I think that’s a contradiction,” Rancourt told members of the press.

Prout previously said she didn’t understand at age 15 that what had happened to her was a crime and that incarceration was even a possibility for Labrie. She said Tuesday she wants now, at age 20, what she wanted at the time she reported her assault: St. Paul’s and Labrie to be held accountable.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Rancourt told Smukler she had advised Labrie not to address the court. At Rancourt’s direction, Labrie did not speak during the hearing except to say “yes, sir ...” when asked by Smukler if he could report to jail on Dec. 26.

Several of Labrie’s relatives and family members also left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. One man embraced Labrie near the courtroom’s exit. Another woman cried as she walked out.

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