×

N.H. Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Labrie Appeal

  • Owen Labrie, second from left, sits with his father before arguments are made before the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Labrie's request for a new trial Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Concord, N.H. Labrie was convicted of sexually assaulting a classmate in 2015. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • Owen Labrie, second from left, waits with his father for the opening of arguments for his bid for a new trial at the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord, N.H. on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Labrie was convicted of sexually assaulting a classmate in 2015. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • Owen Labrie, center, leaves the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord, N.H., on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, after the state's highest court heard arguments for a new trial on his 2015 felony conviction. A (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • Owen Labrie arrives at the New Hampshire Supreme Court with his attorney Jaye Rancourt Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Concord, N.H. Labrie, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a classmate in 2015, challenged a New Hampshire Supreme Court judge's denial of his request for a new trial. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • Supreme Court justices hear arguments from the state of New Hampshire for the case of Owen Labrie, far left, in his bid for a new trial on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Concord, N.H. Labrie was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting his female classmate as part of a game of sexual conquest (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn asks questions during arguments on the re-trial of Owen Labrie on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Concord, N.H. Labrie was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting his female classmate as part of a game of sexual conquest (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • Alex and Susan Prout address the media after oral arguments at the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Owen Labrie's 2015 felony conviction and whether he deserves a new trial Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Concord, N.H. Labrie was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting the Prout's daughter as part of a game of sexual conquest (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announces the settlement agreement concerning St. Paul's School at a afternoon news conference in Concord, N.H., on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2108. On Thursday, Owen Labrie, a former student at the school who was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a classmate as part of a game of sexual conquest, challenged a New Hampshire Supreme Court judge's denial of his request for a new trial. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool)



Concord Monitor
Friday, September 14, 2018

Concord — As attorneys debated on 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, of Tunbridge, also was 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, Cannon Labrie, 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 on 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 on Thursday will take the matter under advisement and issue a decision at a later date. A second appeal concerning Labrie’s denial of a new trial also is pending before the high court.

Rancourt said Labrie won’t give up trying 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.”