Prep school graduate gets a year in jail for sexual assault

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Posted: Oct 29, 2015 10:30 PM
Prep school graduate gets a year in jail for sexual assault

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A graduate of an exclusive New England prep school was sentenced Thursday to a year in jail for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman girl as part of a competition among upperclassmen to rack up sexual conquests.

Owen Labrie, 20, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was also ordered to register as a sex offender, perhaps for the rest of his life, and serve five years of probation after he gets out of jail.

He could have received 11 years behind bars.

In imposing the sentence, Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler called Labrie a "very good liar."

A glum-looking Labrie hugged his weeping mother. He was allowed to remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction.

The case scandalized St. Paul's School in Concord, a 159-year-old institution that has long educated future members of America's elite. Its alumni include Secretary of State John Kerry, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, at least 13 U.S. ambassadors and three Pulitzer Prize winners.

Labrie was originally charged with rape, accused of forcing himself on the girl in a dark mechanical room in 2014, just before his graduation. He was 18 at the time. A jury in August cleared him of rape and convicted him instead of misdemeanor sexual assault for having intercourse and other sexual contact with an underage girl.

He was also found guilty of a felony count of using a computer — specifically, Facebook and email — to lure the girl. Under New Hampshire law, anyone convicted of a felony sex crime must register for life as a sex offender, though Labrie can petition to be removed from the list 15 years after he finishes his sentence.

With good behavior, he could also be out of jail in eight months.

Labrie did not speak in court, instead submitting a statement that was not immediately made public. But the judge found it lacking: "The consequences you spoke about all revolve around yourself and your family. They do not consider the victim."

Labrie's arrest exposed a tradition at the $55,290-a-year boarding school called Senior Salute, in which upperclassmen kept score of how many younger students they had sex with.

Labrie, an aspiring divinity student and captain of the soccer team, told authorities that he and the girl had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse, saying he stopped short in a sudden moment of "divine intervention."

In a videotaped statement played in court Thursday, the girl, now 17, said she was subjected to verbal and physical retaliation from other students after her return to St. Paul's and has been living in almost constant fear since the assault.

She said she has been made to feel as if she "didn't deserve to live" and "would be better off being dead."

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle had asked the judge to give Labrie 3½ to 7 years in prison.

"The evidence was very clear this was not a date," she said. "This was a mission for him. This was a sexual conquest. It was a game." Crude Facebook exchanges between Labrie and friends "show his true attitudes toward young women. His style is to feign intimacy, then throw them in the dumpster."

She said there is no question Labrie is "a gifted individual. He is intelligent, articulate, engaging — often the same qualities we see in very dangerous sexual predators."

Labrie's lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., argued for probation and community service, saying that what the jury called sexual assault was really a "consensual encounter between two teenagers."

Carney said his client felt "enormous remorse," and he lamented that Labrie will be marked for the rest of his life by having to register as a sex offender. He suggested that Labrie had been severely punished already.

"He's now known by so many people as the St. Paul's rapist even though the jury rejected that moniker," Carney said. "His life has been one of trauma trying to deal with these allegations and the emotion of the trial."

In the wake of the scandal, Labrie lost his full scholarship to Harvard, and St. Paul's refused to add his name to an engraved list of graduates.

As the sentencing approached, Carney also accused prosecutors of overreaching in bringing the luring-by-computer count, saying the charge was intended to protect young people from adult predators who use bogus identities online.