iStock/Thinkstock(CONCORD, N.H.) — A lawyer who was a member of the original defense team for Owen Labrie, the former prep school student convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a classmate, got emotional on the stand Tuesday as she recounted seeing what she says was an unprepared expert witness getting ready to testify during the trial for which she was a local co-counsel.
“That was possibly the most terrifying moment of my legal career,” attorney Jaye Rancourt said Tuesday. “I was sitting in that room, thinking, I’m [going] to have to go in that courtroom and interrupt this trial and step in and say, ‘I can’t let it go on.'”
The testimony is part of an effort to argue that Labrie’s counsel was ineffective and secure a new trial. Labrie, 21, was found guilty in August 2015 of a felony charge of using a computer to lure an underage female schoolmate at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, into a sexual encounter.
Although Labrie was acquitted of felony sexual assault, he was convicted of three misdemeanor sexual assault charges and one misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. He was sentenced to one year in jail.
Rancourt did not interrupt the trial. She said, instead, she made a decision to be more present and active during the trial and help as much as she could.
After Labrie’s trial and conviction, however, Rancourt did file a motion for a new trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel. She was subsequently removed from his new defense team by a judge who ruled that she could not argue against the original group of lawyers of which she was a part. Rancourt testified Tuesday for Labrie’s appeals team headed by Robin Melone.
Labrie’s attorneys are arguing not only that his defense team was ineffective but also that the defense team should have pursued an intranet vs. internet distinction.
They say that when he contacted his then-15-year-old accuser, Chessy Prout, on a school email system, or intranet, that was limited to campus servers, and therefore may not be covered under state law that specifies internet service, according to a court petition obtained by ABC News in October 2016.
Prout made her identity public in August 2016 during a national TV appearance. She was not present at Tuesday’s hearing.
In court documents filed in February, Labrie’s former attorneys JW Carney and Samir Zaganjori responded to questions about their work on his case.
“My co-counsel and I carefully reviewed our options for trying this case. … I met on numerous occasions with the defendant and had dozens of telephone calls with him. He participated in every aspect of the defense and agreed with the overall strategy and all of the specific tactics. If I were confronted with a situation, which we had not anticipatd, he always was complimentary afterwards to the approach I had taken on the fly,” Carney said.
Zaganjori said Labrie played an “active role” in his defense.
“I cannot recall a single instance when he expressed displeasure or disapgreement with any decision or recommendation made by myself, Attorney Carney or Attorney Rancourt,” Zaganjori said.
Labrie spent two months incarcerated but is now out on bail pending appeal, and must wear a monitoring bracelet while he appeals his conviction.
After graduating from St. Paul’s, one of the country’s most prestigious prep schools, Labrie, who now lives with his family in Vermont, had intended to attend Harvard University. The Ivy League school rescinded its offer after he was accused of sexual assault.
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