Graham James sentenced two years
DEAN PRITCHARD, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Graham James sexually abused Theo Fleury and Todd Holt hundreds of times over the course of seven years.
On Tuesday, a judge sentenced the disgraced hockey coach and scout to two years in prison, a sentence his victims immediately decried as far too lenient.
“There is no sentence this court can impose that will give back to Mr. Holt and Mr. Fleury that which was taken from them by Mr. James,” Judge Catherine Carlson said. “The court expects there is no sentence it can impose that the victims, and indeed many members of the public, will find satisfactory.”
Holt called the sentence “nothing short of a national travesty”, adding James “conned the judge with his ‘poor me’ and regret statements.”
James, 59, maintained a sombre mask upon learning his sentence. “Bye, you piece of s---,” one man said as James was led out of court in handcuffs.
James was previously sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in connection with his abuse of two junior hockey players — including former NHLer and Elkhorn, Man., native Sheldon Kennedy — and another young victim. James served 18 months before completing his parole in 2000.
The crimes against Fleury — a former NHL star who grew up in Russell, Man., — and his cousin Holt were committed between 1983 and 1994 but did not come to light until long after James had served his initial sentence.
“This is not, as the court often sees, a case of a person re-offending after serving a sentence,” Carlson said.
“It is important to be clear that there is absolutely no fault to be attributed to the victims for disclosing the offences when they did. Indeed, the strength of Mr. Fleury and Mr. Holt in making those disclosures warrants tremendous respect.”
The Crown had been seeking a sentence of six years in prison, while the defence urged Carlson to consider a conditional sentence of no more than 18 months.
Had James entered guilty pleas to all his crimes in 1997, an appropriate sentence would have been six years, Carlson said.
James groomed and manipulated his young victims, telling them he controlled their destiny and could “make or break them,” Carlson said.
“That knowledge is what made the sexual assaults possible and created a situation in which Mr. Fleury and Mr. Holt, as teenagers, away from their families ... were entirely trapped,” she said. “His behaviour was predatory and deliberately orchestrated to make his victims totally dependent on him.”
James’ assaults including masturbating on his victim’s feet and performing oral sex on his victims.
The assaults were “degrading and humiliating to these teenage boys,” Carlson said, and were “chillingly similar” to the offences for which he was previously convicted.
Carlson said she could not ignore the passage of time or the efforts James has taken to rehabilitate himself. Court heard James did not accept early parole for his initial convictions so he could complete counselling sessions in custody.
“The lapse of time, even with demonstrated rehabilitation, does not make inapplicable the principles of general deterrence and denunciation,” she said.
VICTIMS REACT TO SENTENCE
Kennedy said outside the Winnipeg law courts Tuesday that it’s good James is going to jail — it’s just not long enough.
“I was worried about a conditional sentence,” said Kennedy, whose disclosure he had been sexually abused by James led to his first conviction in 1997. “He got some penitentiary time here. The bar is set so low when it comes to these issues to begin with but I think the bar is moving up slowly ... The sentencings don’t come close to the damages that these crimes leave in their wake.”
Greg Gilhooly was another young hockey player sexually victimized by James. Charges involving Gilhooly were stayed as part of a plea bargain between James and the Crown.
“The building here is called the Law Courts Building, it’s not called the Hall of Justice,” Gilhooly, now a lawyer, said outside court. “Graham James was never going to get justice today. Graham James was going to get a legal result.
“At the same time, he is going to jail ... and that’s a good thing,” Gilhooly said.
Beyond Borders president Roz Prober described Tuesday’s sentencing as a “true milestone.”
“We’ve had an incredible judgment by a judge,” she said. “Basically what she said was to those who sexually offend against our children, don’t think just because a few come forward that more children or adults who were sexually abused cannot come forward even years afterward, we will hold you accountable.”
James “accepted the sentence of the court,” his lawyer Evan Roitenberg said.
“I think justice is served when you get a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal, and I think we had that,” Roitenberg said.
The Crown had been seeking a sentence of six years in prison.
Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said her department will review the decision and last month’s sentencing submissions to determine if the case merits appeal.