CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The recent graduate of an elite New Hampshire prep school who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman is unlikely to avoid having to register as a sex offender for life given the history of pardons and commutations in the Granite State.
Twenty-year-old Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont, will be sentenced Thursday for crimes that include a felony conviction for using a computer to lure a minor for sex. It's that conviction that requires him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
He faces a range of punishment from probation to up to 11 years in prison. But lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. has said the sex convictions amount to a "brand, a tattoo" that Labrie will bear for life.
"Owen's future is forever changed," Carney said in August, after the verdicts were announced. Carney declined to comment Friday.
Labrie's case exposed a practice known as "Senior Salute" in which some seniors compete to have sex with underclassmen at St. Paul's School, which has educated some of the nation's elite, including Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and current Secretary of State John Kerry.
Labrie was 18 at the time of the encounter. He testified at trial that the two had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse; the jury found otherwise and convicted him of three counts of sexual assault based on the girl being under the legal age of consent.
Though Labrie will be able to petition for removal from the registry many years from now, he faces long odds of gaining relief through a pardon or commutation. New Hampshire has granted only three such requests over the past dozen years.
Audrey Blodgett, a paralegal who tracks pardon petitions for the attorney general's office, said that of 66 pardon petitions processed since Jan. 1, 2011, only two were granted some form of relief.
The Executive Council in February 2011 voted unanimously to pardon Ward Bird, a Moultonborough farmer who became a folk hero to gun rights activists after he was imprisoned for brandishing a handgun at a trespasser on his secluded property. Then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the pardon, but let stand a unanimous vote to commute his sentence.
That same month Susan Winter, a mother of three who had a felony escape conviction for crawling out a police cruiser window nearly 29 years earlier, was granted a pardon by a unanimous vote of the Executive Council. Lynch let that pardon stand.
"We were very pleased that Gov. Lynch and the Executive Councilors aided us in our pursuit of justice with Ward Bird," said Mark Sisti, who represented Bird. "But there have been many more disappointments than successes in attempting to get pardons in this state."
The only other successful petition in recent decades was that of Keith Neil, who was pardoned in 2003 on a domestic violence conviction that prevented him from deploying to Iraq with his National Guard unit.
Other potentially worthy petitions have not succeeded: Thomas Schoolcraft, a county corrections officer who turned his life around — from teen burglar to college graduate — was denied a pardon in 2013.
University of New Hampshire School of Law professor Albert "Buzz" Scherr noted that pardons come down to politics. He said the chances of Gov. Maggie Hassan approving a pardon for Labrie while she's running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Kelly Ayotte — a former attorney general who opted to pursue a death sentence against now convicted cop killer and death row inmate Michael Addison — are "slim to none."
Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said Carney and his client are "grasping at straws" if they think they can get a registry requirement voided through a pardon or by asking legislature to change the law.
"I think he's going to find both are dead-end approaches," Grady Sexton said. "And Gov. (Maggie) Hassan has said a jury verdict shouldn't be overturned absent a clear miscarriage of justice.'"
Hassan's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Grady Sexton also stressed that there are other forms of relief, including Labrie's ability to ask to be removed from the sex offender registry 15 years after he completes his sentence.
"He's not going to be on there for his whole life," she said. "But I think it's also important to remember that this is a lifetime sentence for the victim."