Updated: Tue Mar. 20 2012 11:01:41
A former coach characterized as the "most hated man in hockey" has
been sentenced to two years in prison for sexually abusing two of his
Graham James was asked to stand in the prisoner box of a Winnipeg
courtroom as Justice Catherine Carlson delivered her decision on
"There is no sentence this court can impose which the victims and
indeed the public will find satisfactory," Judge Carlson told the packed
James pleaded guilty in December to repeatedly assaulting former NHL
player Theo Fleury and Fleury's cousin Todd Holt in the 1980s and 1990s
when they played for him in the Western Hockey League.
Carlson ordered that James have no contact with either Fleury or Holt.
Charges involving a third player, Greg Gilhooly, have been stayed as part of a plea deal with the Crown.
For more than a year, James has been quietly living and working in
Montreal, out on bail under the condition he doesn't contact any victims
or accusers, among other orders.
His lawyer Evan Roitenberg had earlier argued that James was
rehabilitated and asked for a conditional sentence of 12 to 18 months.
The Crown had asserted that James was at a high risk to reoffend and
urged the judge to consider a six-year jail term.
Judge Carlson said the court was tasked with weighing the severity of
the charges with the amount of time that has passed since James
committed the offences.
Speaking for both himself and Fleury at a news conference in Cochrane, Alta., Holt responded to the ruling with disappointment.
"This sentence today is nothing short of a national travesty because
we know that childhood abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our
country," he told reporters.
Present for the sentencing was Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player
who was also molested by James. The disgraced coach pleaded guilty to
sexual abuse against Kennedy in 1997 and served about 18 months of a
"Obviously it's not a sentence that we all want to see," Kennedy said
of the most recent sentencing, adding that no court ruling could "come
close to the damage that (abuse) leaves in its wake."
Earlier in the day, Kennedy said the purpose of his presence in court
and goal moving forward was to make the "invisible damage of abuse
The court heard in late February that James groomed Fleury and Holt
for abuse by threatening to make or break their careers. Gilhooly, a
third alleged victim who never played for James, made similar claims in a
statement released Saturday.
"He kept me under his spell by threatening to tell people I was gay,
to tell people at school that I was a problem," wrote Gilhooly, now a
Gilhooly travelled to Manitoba to see his accused abuser's sentencing
and expressed both contentment and dissatisfaction with the decision.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Gilhooly said he'd like
to see the government take a harder line on convicted sex offenders.
"There has to be a better way to deal with a monster like Graham," he told reporters.
James originally faced nine new sex charges involving three players,
with the alleged incidents occurring between 1979 and 1994. But due to a
plea deal, he only pleaded guilty to charges involving two players.
Prior to being arrested, James was living discreetly in Mexico, away
from the outrage that followed a controversial pardon in 2007 for his
previous sentence. He returned in October 2010 after a warrant was
issued on the new charges.
Evasive still, James has managed to dodge cameras outside the
courtroom throughout the trial -- making court sketches the only recent
public record of his appearance.
He arrived at the courthouse Tuesday with a red ski mask obscuring
the lower part of his face. He and his lawyer swiftly brushed past
reporters on their way to the sentencing.
A media consortium made up of CTV, CBC, Global and the Winnipeg Free Press had requested to broadcast the sentencing, but the application was struck down.
Judge Carlson ruled earlier in the week that having live cameras in
the courtroom would sensationalize an already scandalous case. She also
cited the issue of privacy, for both James and the victims.
Each in his own right, Fleury, Holt and Kennedy have all become advocates for victims of sexual abuse.
Holt, only 16 when the abuse started during his time with the WHL
Swift Current Broncos, was the last of the three to go public with his
story in late February. He said the decision was driven by a desire to
let other victims know that they can speak out safely.
It's estimated Holt was assaulted by James hundreds of times from
1989 until 1994, at one point even offered money in exchange for sexual
Fleury detailed how he was assaulted more than 150 times "by an adult
my family and I trusted completely" in a victim impact statement
released in late February.
"Do not show leniency to Graham James. He certainly never did to me or any of his other prey," he had urged the court.
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