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Labrie asks Supreme Court to overturn his conviction for using computer to lure minor for sex

  • Owen Labrie arrives at the New Hampshire Supreme Court with his attorney Jaye Rancourt in Concord for the arguments for a new trial from 2015 on Thursday, September 13, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Owen Labrie sits with his father before the Supreme Court arguments on whether he gets a new trial on his 2015 felony conviction on Thursday, September 13, 2108. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Alex and Susan Prout address the media after the oral arguments at the New Hampshire Supreme Court on the Owen Labrie 2015 felony conviction and whether he deserves a new trial on Thursday, September 13, 2108. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Owen Labrie leaves the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord on Thursday, September 13, 2018 after the state's highest court heard arguments for a new trial on his 2015 felony conviction. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Supreme Court justices hear arguments from the state of New Hampshire on Thursday in Owen Labrie’s appeal of a felony conviction. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn asks questions during arguments of the re-trial of Owen Labrie on Thursday, September 13, 2018 in Concord, New Hampshire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Owen Labrie waits with his father for the opening of arguments for his bid for a new trial at the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord on Thursday, September 13, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, September 13, 2018

As attorneys debated Thursday at the state’s highest court whether Owen Labrie’s lone felony conviction should stand, they kept returning to a central question: Did he communicate with a 15-year-old classmate over the internet with the intent of having sex?

State prosecutors maintain the evidence against Labrie was overwhelming at trial to support his conviction of using a computer to lure the girl for sex, which requires him to register as a sex offender for life. Labrie was also convicted of misdemeanor statutory rape and endangering the welfare of a child, but those convictions weren’t the focus of Thursday’s hearing.

Defense attorney Jaye Rancourt told justices that Labrie was not trying to “deceive, manipulate, or exploit” the girl, whom he had invited on a “Senior Salute” at St. Paul’s School.

“The use of a computer in this case was very much a convenience – it’s simply the way that young people communicate,” Rancourt said while Labrie, seated next to his father, looked on from the front row.

Rancourt continued by noting that a “salute” invitation could have meant anything from a walk around campus to having sexual intercourse. Jurors should have known such invitations were open-ended based on the testimony of former students during the August 2015 trial in Merrimack County Superior Court, she said.

“Your position is that you either have to say something explicitly about sex or something to do with sex in a communication over the internet, or you have to use it in some ways to deceive someone?” New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn asked Rancourt.

“Essentially,” Rancourt said, adding that trickery is a key factor, and it wasn’t present in this case.

Labrie’s former defense team had argued unsuccessfully in 2015 to set aside the verdict following his conviction on a charge of “certain uses of computer services prohibited.” Attorney J.W. Carney said the statute had been wrongly applied to Labrie’s case, and that the Legislature didn’t intend to have someone convicted of a misdemeanor-level sexual assault crime to then have to register as a sex offender for life because communication took place over a computer.

While jurors found Labrie guilty of statutory rape, they acquitted him of the more serious felony-level sexual assault charges.

Assistant Attorney General Sean Locke said Thursday the communication between Labrie and the girl was part of a pattern and not a one-time event. The “salute” invitation began a string of messages that today prove Labrie intended to do more than just take the girl on a date, Locke said.

“If an adult were to point blank proposition a minor over the internet and that minor accepted and consented to contact, it seems like that’s excluded under the defendant’s interpretation because there’s not deception involved,” Locke said.

During the half-hour oral arguments, friends and family members of the victim gathered in the seats behind Locke. Chessy Prout, who came forward in Summer 2016 as the survivor in this case, was not in attendance, but her parents, Alex and Susan Prout, said they attended in support of their daughter, and to remind the court that they care and have a vested interest in the outcome of the appeal.

“Our daughter is our hero,” Susan Prout later said on the steps to the courthouse. “We are so proud of her. We are so proud of her voice. But, it hasn’t been easy, and no one should think that because she’s spoken up it’s been easy. It’s one day at a time.”

For years, a toxic culture of sexual abuse has festered at St. Paul’s, and it’s important that the details of long-held traditions and games of sexual conquest be exposed, Alex Prout said.

“We are tremendously happy, despite the pain that our family and that our daughter has gone through, that finally many of these things have come to light,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Prouts reached a confidential settlement with St. Paul’s, ending litigation in a civil lawsuit they filed in 2016 in U.S. District Court in Concord. In their lawsuit, they accused the school of failing to “meet its most basic obligations to protect the children entrusted to its care,” and said administrators knew about the “salute” but did nothing to curtail it.

The three justices who presided over oral arguments in Labrie’s appeal Thursday will take the matter under ad visement and issue a decision at a later date. A second appeal concerning Labrie’s denial of a new trial is also pending before the high court.

Rancourt said Labrie won’t give up to clear his name.

“His life has really stalled. He can’t move on with his life,” she said. “Right now, he has to register as a sex offender. That’s not much of a life to move on to. He will keep fighting, and I don’t blame him.”