Prep school graduate gets a year in jail for sexual assault

Former St. Paul's School student Owen Labrie walks away as his attorney J.W. Carney addresses reporters outside Merrimack Superior Court in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Labrie is charged with raping a 15-year-old freshman as part of Senior Salute, in which seniors try to romance and have intercourse with underclassmen before leaving the prestigious St. Paul's School in Concord. The defense contends the two had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, Pool)

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 tradition in which upperclassmen competed 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 gotten 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 after the judge left the bench. 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’s arrest exposed a competition 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 the two had consensual sexual contact but not intercourse, saying he stopped short in a moment of “divine intervention.” At trial, he acknowledged bragging to friends that he had intercourse with her.

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.” She also said she has problems concentrating in school.

Prosecutors asked the judge to give Labrie 3½ to 7 years in prison, while 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” about the encounter, and he lamented that Labrie would 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 has been all but disavowed by St. Paul’s, which stripped him of a religion award and 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 to snare their victims.

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