BOSTON (AP) — New Hampshire's Supreme Court on Friday denied a request for a new trial for an elite prep school graduate who argued the failures of his star-studded legal team resulted in his conviction for using a computer to lure an underage student for sex.
Owen Labrie, 23, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was acquitted in 2015 of raping a 15-year-old classmate as part of "Senior Salute," a game of sexual conquest, at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. But he was found guilty of a felony computer charge and several misdemeanor counts of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The computer law says no one shall knowingly use a computer online service "to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child" to commit sexual assault.
In its 3-0 ruling Friday, the court dismissed arguments from Labrie's attorney that his trial lawyers were ineffective for failing to mount a defense against the computer charge, including arguing that his use of the school's intranet network did not constitute computer services under the law or effectively communicate that Labrie had no intention of having sex with Chessy Prout when he sent her the messages.
The lead trial lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., is a well-known defense attorney whose clients included the late Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger. After the trial, Carney unsuccessfully asked a judge to set aside the guilty verdict on the computer charge. He said it never occurred to him before the trial that it was an issue worth exploring.
"Counsel's decision to focus his opening statement and closing argument on attacking the victim's credibility and to defend all of the charges the defendant faced by focusing on penetration and consent are tactical decisions that fall within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance," Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi wrote in the decision. "Given the wide latitude of discretion available to defense counsel to conduct the defense in the manner of his or her own choosing, the opening statement and closing argument and defense mounted by the defendant's trial counsel cannot be deemed ineffective assistance of counsel."
Labrie, who began serving his sentence in December and is projected to be released June 24, was making his second bid for a new trial.
Last year, the same court upheld his convictions on the computer charge. The court dismissed arguments by Labrie's lawyers that prosecutors failed to prove intent in his use of the computer and also that the law was meant to be used to target sexual predators and pedophiles combing the internet, not in cases like this.
Prout spoke publicly about the assault for the first time in 2016. She has since become an advocate for sexual assault survivors and co-wrote a memoir, "I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope," with Boston Globe journalist Jenn Abelson.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, as Prout has done.