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St. Paul's School grad Labrie in court to challenge felony conviction for using computer in furtherance of sex crime

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 13. 2018 10:26PM
St. Paul School graduate Owen Labrie sits with his father Thursday as the New Hampshire Supreme Court hears arguments on whether he gets a new trial on a 2015 felony conviction. (Geoff Forrester/Concord Monitor for AP Pool)



CHESSY PROUT

CONCORD — St. Paul’s School graduate Owen Labrie sat in the front row Thursday as the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard his appeal seeking to overturn a felony conviction for use of a computer in furtherance of a sex crime.

Labrie wore a blue suit and sported the same Harry Potter-like coif and eyeglasses familiar from his 2015 trial, which drew national news coverage and prompted a state investigation into the elite preparatory school and cover-ups of past sexual wrongdoing on campus.

In 2015, a Merrimack County jury found Labrie guilty of the felony and several misdemeanor sex crimes, but found him not guilty of felony-level sexual assault.

Also in the court Thursday were the parents of Chessy Prout, who was a 15-year-old freshman when she met Labrie and has since written a book about her ordeal. Chessy is in her second week as a college freshmen, they said.

“I am so tired of perpetrators hiding behind the veneer of the legal system and the protections that they have,” Alex Prout said following the hearing. In lengthy comments, he said Labrie wanted to “slay” his daughter, a term used by participants in the on-campus game of sexual conquest called the Senior Salute.

Chessy’s father faulted St. Paul’s for ignoring such behavior and said victims have been shamed and ignored for too long.

“Thankfully, after the #MeToo movement, things are beginning to change in our country,” he said. “People are willing to listen and believe victims. But we need to keep this momentum going.” 

Alex Prouty said his family settled its lawsuit against St. Paul’s School, which did not contain a clause prohibiting disparagement, speaking negatively about the institution.

Labrie’s lawyer, Jaye Rancourt, also spoke with reporters. She said anyone accused of a crime has been unjustly caught up in the #MeToo movement.

“The problem with the #MeToo movement is now if someone says something happened they’re to automatically be believed and we’re not supposed to give [the accused] due process and we’re not supposed to believe they’re innocent until proven guilty.”



Alex and Susan Prout, parents of Chessy Prout, address the media outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord on Thursday. (Geoff Forrester/Concord Monitor for AP Pool)

Only two Supreme Court justices were present to hear Thursday’s oral arguments, Robert J. Lynn, Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, who were joined by Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker. The unusual lineup was the result of three high court justices disqualifying themselves, Gary E. Hicks, James P. Bassett and Patrick E. Donovan.

The judges who recused themselves are not required to state a reason, but Labrie’s criminal and civil teams reach deep into the New Hampshire legal community, as do lawyers hired by St. Paul’s School.

Most of Thursday’s oral arguments centered on the state’s computer use law.

Rancourt said the law targets pedophiles disguising themselves as teenagers combing the internet for young victims. It wasn’t intended to be used against teenagers who use the internet and social media to communicate with their peers.

The state did not adequately prove that Labrie intended to have sexual intercourse with Prout when he sent her emails and Facebook messages asking that they meet, Rancourt argued.

“This is an invitation to someone that is known. There’s no artifice, there’s no trick, there’s no deception. There’s no question that she recognized this as a Senior Salute and she rejected it,” she said. 

Prout only later agreed to meet Labrie after a friend talked her into it.

Associate Attorney General Sean Locke argued prior rulings have upheld the computer law in similar circumstances. He said Labrie’s intent was obvious given what he said to friends and the fact he took a blanket and condom with him to the rendezvous.

The appeal also challenges the conviction on two other grounds, a prosecutor error during closing arguments and testimony of fellow St. Paul’s School Student Andrew Thomson.

Rancourt said the error - that DNA tests proved Labrie’s semen was found on Prout’s underwear - was enough that the judge should have intervened. Locke countered that judges tell juries to rely on their own recollection of testimony, not what lawyers say in arguments.

As for Andrew Thomson, Rancourt allged he was involved in his own sexual relationship with an underaged girl, which gave him reason to curry favor with prosecutors when he testified at Labrie’s trial. The judge refused to allow defense lawyers to question Thomson about the relationship.

This is not Labrie’s only case before the state Supreme Court. He also is asking that his conviction be overturned because of ineffective counsel. Justices have ordered briefs in that case. Most appeals take about six months to decide.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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