A prep school graduate who was convicted of using a computer to lure an underage student for sex now wants a new trial, complaining his high-profile defense team provided poor legal representation.
Owen Labrie, 23, was acquitted in 2015 of raping a 15-year-old classmate as part of a sexual conquest ritual at St. Paul's School. He was found guilty of luring an underage student for sex using a computer, three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
He was subsequently sentenced to a year in jail, and he had to register as a sex offender, NBC News reports. While he was at first permitted to stay out of custody on bail, Labrie was required to begin serving out his sentence in March.
On Wednesday, Labrie appeared before the New Hampshire Supreme Court to argue that the defense he'd received against the computer conviction was ineffective, according to The Associated Press.
The law says that no one should use a computer online service to "seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child," for the purpose of sexual assault, AP reports.
Labrie's attorney, Christopher Johnson, argued that at trial that the defense team wasn't able to effectively communicate that in spite of the messages Labrie sent his underage victim, who has been identified as Chessy Prout, he had no intention of having sex with her.
"A defense attorney obligation is to have a strategy and execute that strategy reasonably," Johnson said, according to the AP. "These lawyers, as shown in their post-conviction testimony, recognized the mental state was the place where they wanted to stake their defense. The problem was they totally failed to execute that theory."
During the trial, Labrie's counsel claimed that no penetration had occurred between Labrie and Prout, although a jury would ultimately decide the two had sex.
Prosecutors alleged that the sexual assault was prompted by a tradition at the elite prep school known as the "Senior Salute," in which upperclassman would compete and try to have intimate encounters with younger students, according to the Concord Monitor.
On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Sean Locke argued that Labrie's defense team had done a good job and had been able to get him acquitted of the most serious charges against him, which were three counts of felony sexual assault. He argued that the Supreme Court justices hearing the arguments needed to consider the effectiveness of the entire defense, rather than focusing on one specific charge.
"You have to look at the ineffective assistance claims in terms of what's going on in the entire trial," Locke said, according to the Monitor.
The request for a new trial is the second time Labrie has tried to appeal the case in front of the Supreme Court. It also comes on the heels of a decision earlier this month by the court to uphold the conviction on the computer charge after his attorneys had argued the law was meant to target sexual predators on the internet rather than the online messages in this case.
The three justices who heard the arguments are expected to issue a written decision in the next three to six months. If Labrie's attempts are successful, the case would get a new trial.
Labrie's attorneys also have asked to suspend the remainder of his one-year jail sentence.
Prout was not in court on Wednesday. However, she has go on to become an advocate against sexual assault, writing the book "I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope," with Boston Globe journalist Jenn Abelson.
Her father, Alex Prout, later told AP that he hoped that justice would prevail.
"Our family continues to support our daughter in her journey of healing and seeking justice," her father said. "She was a victim of a crime and the perpetrator continues to follow his self-proclaimed mantra of deny until you die, never acknowledging his bad act or accepting responsibility for his actions."
[Photo Credit: Associated Press]
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