CONCORD, N.H. — A lawyer seeking a new trial for a former New Hampshire prep school student convicted of sexual assault and using a computer to lure a 15-year-old freshman is challenging the computer charge, saying it was not justified.
Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, is appealing his convictions, arguing that they resulted from ineffective counsel during his 2015 trial. He was arrested in 2014, days after graduating from St. Paul’s School. Prosecutors linked the assault on the girl to a competition at St. Paul’s known as the Senior Salute, in which some seniors seek to have sex with underclassmen.
Labrie’s new lawyer, Robin Melone, contends the felony computer charge is unsupported because emails Labrie exchanged with the student never left the school’s internal intranet server. In documents submitted Tuesday, Melone says trial lawyers failed to investigate the origins of the emails.
State law says no one shall use a computer “on-line service, internet service, or local bulletin board service” to lure a minor, but does not mention locally hosted intranet servers.
Messages seeking comment from J.W. Carney Jr., Labrie’s main trial lawyer last year, and the prosecutor on the case were left Wednesday.
The computer charge carries the mandate to register as a sex offender for life. Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail on the assault charge, but is free on bail during his appeal.
The new court documents describe a conversation in May between lawyers representing Labrie and St. Paul’s, and a school information technology worker. The worker indicated messages sent from a school email address to another one using a computer connected to the school’s Wi-Fi would remain on a campus server. Unless sent by a cellphone, the email would never travel outside of the local intranet server.
It’s not the first time the computer charge has been brought up in a new trial request by Labrie. A previous lawyer filed a motion in April saying his trial lawyers didn’t challenge the offense at all until after he was convicted and failed to investigate the girl’s social media accounts.
At that time, Carney responded that he asked the judge to set aside the verdict on the computer count several weeks before Labrie’s sentencing.
“The legislative history of this type of statute demonstrates that it was not meant to apply to teenagers who use Facebook to make plans to meet and have consensual sexual interactions,” he said in a statement. “It was designed to prosecute much older individuals who hide their true identities in order to induce minors to send them nude pictures or set up secret meetings.”
Other arguments submitted Tuesday say the trial lawyers failed to investigate and cross-examine Labrie’s roommate and statements made by the girl’s dorm adviser, and failed to investigate or secure the girl’s mental health records.