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AG set to unveil results of St. Paul’s probe; Labrie appeal heads to high court

  • Owen Labrie, 21, returns to his seat during an evidentiary hearing on whether he will be granted a retrial at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Labrie was convicted of misdemeanor sexually assault charges a felony computer charge requiring him to register as a sex offender in 2015. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 9/12/2018 5:51:51 PM

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office will announce the results of its 14-month-long criminal investigation into St. Paul’s School on Thursday, the same day the state’s highest court is scheduled to hear Owen Labrie’s first appeal.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald launched in mid-July 2017 an investigation into the Concord prep school’s handling of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, citing, in part, sexual-conquest rituals such as the “Senior Salute” that took center stage at Labrie’s highly-publicized trial, as well as allegations of a similar game involving a crown. Authorities also initiated the investigation following the release of a 71-page report last summer detailing faculty abuse of students, spanning six decades.

The school has since released two supplements, which substantiate additional allegations against former faculty and staff who worked at the school as recently as 2008.

Prosecutors said Wednesday their investigation initially focused on whether St. Paul’s endangered the welfare of children or broke a law that prohibits the obstruction of criminal investigations, but that it expanded to include other crimes, including those prosecuted against former math teacher David Pook of Warner.

Pook, who taught at the school between 2000 and 2008, was recently convicted of conspiring to commit false swearing before a grand jury investigating St. Paul’s and is serving four months in jail. He is the only person so far to have faced charges in connection with the probe since it launched.

The Concord courtroom where Pook was sentenced is the same room where a jury found Labrie guilty in August 2015 of using the internet to solicit sex from a 15-year-old freshman as part of the “Senior Salute.”

Labrie was acquitted of felony-level sexual assault and found guilty of misdemeanor-level charges. His sole felony conviction was on a charge of certain uses of computer services prohibited that requires him to register as a sex offender for life, exclusive of the fact that he was acquitted of the more serious sexual assault charges.

On appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Labrie contends there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction on the felony computer charge and that prosecutors wrongly applied the statute. His appellate attorney, Jaye Rancourt, will go before three justices at the state’s highest court Thursday morning to argue that a superior court judge erred in failing to dismiss the charge at the close of the evidence stage of the trial, ultimately leading to Labrie’s conviction.

Conversely, prosecutors maintain the evidence against Labrie is clear and overwhelming. Assistant Attorney General Sean Locke wrote in his brief that the facts in the case against Labrie exemplify what the computer statute was designed to prohibit: “a situation where adults using an online service solicit meetings with children, en masse, where there is an implied expectation by accepting, the child will submit to a sexual encounter with an adult.”

The then-growing tradition of seniors at St. Paul’s School to compete for dates with underclassman garnered national attention at Labrie’s trial. Andrew Thomson was one of four former friends who testified about Labrie’s comments on and behavior toward female students in the spring of 2014 when the then-freshman said Labrie sexually assaulted her in a mechanical room on the school’s campus.

During a bench conference, Labrie’s attorney, J.W. Carney, suggested Thomson had engaged in similar illicit relations with an underage girl that the school had handled internally because Thomson is the son of Lucy Hodder, Gov. Maggie Hassan’s former legal counsel and a member of St. Paul’s board of trustees.

While the court initially prohibited a line of questioning about that alleged relationship, Labrie argues on appeal that his trial attorneys should have been able to recross-examine Thomson on the issue. Rancourt maintains that Labrie, who was not present during the chambers conference, was denied his constitutional right to confront a witness – a right that cannot be waived by counsel. Further, she wrote, Thomson could have been biased to testify in a certain way as a cooperating state witness.

Oral arguments are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. An attorney general press conference will follow at 2 p.m.

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

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