Convicted N.H. Prep School Grad Rejected 30-Day Sentence

Owen Labrie's lawyer defended his client's rejection of prior plea deals

A graduate of an exclusive New England prep school convicted of sexually assaulting a younger student rejected a string of plea deals that would have meant far less jail time and no registration as a sex offender.

In addition to a year in county jail and lifetime sex offender registration, Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont, was sentenced Thursday to five years' probation on misdemeanor sex assault charges and a felony conviction of using a computer to lure a 15-year-old girl for sex.

Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray, whose office prosecuted the case, said Friday that he believes the most recent deal offered to the 20-year-old Labrie called for a 30-day sentence.

Labrie's lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said he wouldn't characterize the sentence as harsh when compared to state prison, and he defended Labrie's rejection of prior plea deals negotiated by a succession of lawyers.

"One of the reasons Owen changed counsel is he wanted to make his own decision on what was best for him," Carney said.

Andrew Cotrupi, a Hampton defense attorney not involved in the case, said, "Clearly, in hindsight, that was a mistake."

The girl, in a videotaped victim-impact statement played in court Thursday, spoke of how depressed she was after Labrie rejected the deals that would have kept her off the witness stand during trial.

"That really pushed me down and led me to believe I didn't deserve to live," said the girl, who turned 17 this week. Labrie was 18 when the assault occurred May 30, 2014, at St. Paul's School in Concord.

Labrie's case revealed a seamier side of the 159-year-old prep school that boasts Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and Secretary of State John Kerry among its alumni. Prosecutors say Labrie's assault was committed as part of a practice at the school called Senior Salute, a competition of conquest in which some seniors attempt to have sex with underclassmen.

At sentencing, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler shot down Labrie's assertion that the sex was consensual, calling the once-aspiring divinity student "a very good liar."

Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said that debunking of the consensual sex defense was an important signal to others.

"Although no amount of time can make up for the harm that has been done to this victim and her family, knowing that Owen Labrie is being held accountable for what he did is a small consolation to the victim's family, countless other victims and our community," Schollett said.

Cotrupi said the sentence was fair.

"Anyone who's been to county jail knows it's not pleasant. He will hate it and he will likely be victimized, but not nearly to the extent of state prison," Cotrupi said.

David Ruoff, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor not involved in the case, said he wasn't surprised by the one-year sentence and called sex offender registration for life "pretty onerous." While Labrie can petition to have his name removed from the public registry 15 years after he finishes his sentence, he still remains on a list that can be checked by police as part of, for example, a background check.

"You have to register every three months," Ruoff said. "You have to give them all of your screen names, all of your email addresses. There are places you can't live."

Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 3 ½ to seven years that would have been suspended after Labrie completed the state prison's sex offender program. Ruoff said that recommendation wasn't as generous as it might sound.

"The judge knows that the program is a year-and-a-half long," Ruoff said. "It's a six-month wait to get into it. You're talking 2 1/2 years before he's eligible for release."

Prosecutors said in court Thursday that they are still investigating Labrie's deletion of nearly 200 Facebook messages and emails and that there is the possibility he could be charged with destroying evidence.

Labrie remains free on bail pending appeal.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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