In 2015 Owen Labrie was convicted of having sex with a then-15-year-old freshman at St. Paul’s School when he was a senior at the time and using a computer to lure her in.
The now 21-year-old is asking for a new trial on the grounds that his legal team did a poor job of representing him.
NHPR’s Paige Sutherland has been covering this ongoing case and attended Tuesday’s hearing. She spoke with All Things Considered Host Peter Biello about it.
So help us breakdown the format of this week’s hearings - is this an appeal?
No – technically it’s a motion asking for a new trial. The set-up is like a mini trial – there are lawyers, for both the state and the defense, questioning witnesses in front of a judge.
And the underlying question is whether or not Labrie’s earlier legal team, the one that represented him in 2015, did an adequate job defending him in court.
And what is the basis of Labrie’s claim?
His main claim is inadequate defense. One specific example, he says his lawyers failed to mount a case against the charge that he used a computer to lure a minor to sex. Labrie’s current lawyers argued that this charge should not apply in this case as it was two teenagers talking on Facebook – not an older sexual predator trying to trick a minor – as they say the law was intended for.
Labrie’s lawyers called one of his attorneys from that earlier trial to the stand Tuesday, right?
Yes, Jaye Rancourt, who was Labrie’s local counsel during the trial process, was the first to take the stand and was questioned for over 3 hours.
The crux of her statements seemed to show that Labrie’s lead counsel, a Boston attorney named J.W. Carney, failed his client.
Rancourt testified that Carney did not involve her in many of the pre-trial prep work.
Rancourt also stated that Carney failed to bring up key evidence in the case that would have discredited both the victim’s testimony and other crucial witnesses. She also testified that one of the charges against Labrie, the use of a computer, was not mentioned once in all the defense’s trial notes. No memos, research, documents, etc. As well, recalled how Carney never met the state's DNA expert on the case and prepared for the cross examination just minutes prior.
During questioning, at one point Rancourt broke out into tears, saying how she wished she did more to represent him. But the state says her motives in saying this are self-interested as she’s still representing Labrie in his appeal towards the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Tuesday was just the first day – what should we expect for later this week?
It’s not entirely clear who will take the stand but J.W. Carney as well as even Labrie, who’s out on bail, may testify. The court allotted four days for these hearings but it won’t likely last that long.
Once the hearings wrap up, the judge can either rule from the bench or take a few days to review the evidence. If he decides to grant a new trial, Labrie will have a chance to overturn his one-year sentence but will not face the charges he was acquitted of such as aggravated sexual assault.
But if he’s not given a new trial, Labrie will most likely move forward with his appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.