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Prep School Assault Conviction Affirmed in New Hampshire

In a sexual-assault case that brought disgrace to an elite New Hampshire prep school, the state Supreme Court upheld the conviction Tuesday of an 18-year-old who lured a freshman to a campus boiler room as part of an annual hookup competition.

CONCORD, N.H. (CN) - In a sexual-assault case that brought disgrace to an elite New Hampshire prep school, the state Supreme Court upheld the conviction Tuesday of an 18-year-old who lured a freshman to a campus boiler room as part of an annual hookup competition.

The scandal erupted four years ago when the springtime tradition known as the “senior salute” began to dominate the halls of St. Paul’s, a coed boarding school in Concord. At the school, seniors make salutes when they send notes to younger students, saying they should spend some time together before graduation.

Sexual connotations are ubiquitous in the invitations, and the case record shows that 18-year-old Owen Labrie was fixated in early 2014 on “saluting” a 15-year-old freshman whose name is omitted from the ruling.

The girl turned Labrie down at first — as noted in the ruling, she was the younger sister of a classmate Labrie had dated previously, and she felt that his “intentions were really, really wrong.”

When Labrie leaned on a freshman in his dormitory to put in a good word for him, however, the girl agreed to meet Labrie on May 30.

The ruling notes that she told a friend beforehand that she planned, at most, to give Labrie oral sex. Labrie expected sex as well, according to the ruling, which quotes a message he sent before the meeting to a St. Paul’s alumnus. “I’m slaying [the victim],” Labrie wrote, using the lingo for sex that was used commonly on campus.

A year later, after the state pressed charges, Labrie was acquitted of felony-level sexual assault but found guilty of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using computer for a prohibited purpose. Once bound for Harvard, Labrie was sentenced in 2015 to one year in prison.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed his convictions Tuesday, noting the overwhelming digital evidence that Labrie admitted to having the sex he now denies ever occurred.

On Facebook messenger, when the girl told Labrie she was not on birth control and unsure whether he had worn a condom, Labrie replied, “Praise Jesus, I put it on like halfway through.”

The girl next asked Labrie whether the condom went on before or after he ejaculated.

“Ha, ha, ha, I put it on long before I knew I would,” he replied. “I would say you’re good to go, but I guess it’s your call.”

In challenging his computer-solicitation conviction, however, Labrie disputed that his messages showed an intent to have sex.

But the New Hampshire Supreme Court emphasized Tuesday that nothing in the law requires that the defendant explicitly communicate about sexual contact to the victim.

"Regardless of whether we analyze each pre-encounter communication individually, or consider them collectively, however, the result is the same,” Chief Justice Robert Lynn wrote for a three-judge panel. There was ample evidence of the defendant’s intent to ‘solicit, seduce, lure, or entice’ the victim to engage in sexual penetration throughout early 2014.”

Labrie's lawyer, Jaye Rancourt of Manchester law firm Brennan Lenehan Iacopino & Hickey, said in a statement that she was "deeply disappointed" in the decision.

"The computer felony law, as now interpreted by the NH Supreme Court, can ensnare any senior in high school who communicates through their phone, tablet or laptop with a freshman in high school and invites them on a date," said Rancourt. "I’ve heard from numerous legislators since Owen’s conviction who have assured me that this was not the intention of the legislature at the time the law was passed. Now it is time for them to act to fix this terribly flawed law making it retroactive in order to spare seniors in high school from the stigma of being registered sex offenders for inviting a freshman in high school on a date.”

In addition to the computer-law analysis, the justices on Tuesday found no error in a decision by the trial court that barred Labrie’s lawyer from asking certain questions on cross-examination of a state witness.

Labrie took issue with the prosecutor's reference to semen in the closing arguments as well, but the court said Tuesday that it was too late to raise this challenge now.

Labrie’s lawyer argued that the prosecutor went too far in saying that semen and sperm had been found on the inside of the victim’s underwear, when the evidence showed only that there was semen and a possibility of fluids somewhere on the crotch panel of the underwear, but not necessarily on the inside.

Labrie has a second appeal centered on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, which is scheduled to go before the state Supreme Court on Nov. 28.

Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal, Education

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