Graham James sentencing put off

Graham James leaves court in Winnipeg, Man., Feb. 22, 2012. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI Agency)

Graham James leaves court in Winnipeg, Man., Feb. 22, 2012. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI Agency)

JAMES TURNER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:37 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt will wait weeks to learn if a once-revered hockey coach who betrayed and sexually abused them will head to prison for years or be allowed to serve a sentence of house arrest in the community.

Graham James returns to court March 20 to learn his fate from Manitoba Judge Catherine Carlson following a marathon sentencing hearing in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Prosecutors are seeking a six-year prison term for James, 59, saying the abuse he perpetrated on future NHL great Theo Fleury and Fleury’s cousin Todd Holt cries out for stiff punishment.

The request comes despite James serving a prior prison term in the late ‘90s for abusing two other junior players in roughly the same timeframe as the newer charges.

“Had the court been aware of all the circumstances that we now know … a far more significant sentence would have been imposed at that time,” Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said.

In 1997, James was handed a 3 1/2-year sentence for sexually abusing future NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and another player who can’t be identified.

CONDITIONAL SENTENCE SOUGHT

Defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg urged Carlson impose a conditional sentence in the range of 12 to 18 months for the current charges.

“A conditional sentence is in no way appropriate,” said McDuff.

Fleury was abused by James for roughly two years in the mid-’80s, while Holt was victimized from about 1989 through 1994, court heard.

McDuff called the incidents involving Fleury and Holt “separate and distinct.” That’s despite James using virtually identical tactics by leveraging positions of trust in junior hockey to groom victims and wear them down in order to abuse them, McDuff said.

FOOT FETISH

Despite being billeted with a family in Winnipeg, James ordered Fleury to stay with him and sleep on a cot in his bedroom at least two nights a week, McDuff said. James, who had a foot fetish, would try and grab the teen anywhere there was skin. The sexual assaults grew worse over time, court heard.

Fleury estimated he was abused 150 times by James over a period of about two years. Fleury’s home life was “dysfunctional” and not somewhere he could seek help, McDuff told court.

Fleury told police he couldn’t seek assistance from relatives.

“There was no help there,” he told them.

“One can only imagine a 15-year-old boy having to deal with this conflict. It’s unimaginable,” McDuff said.

Holt was abused between the ages of 15 and 20 in Swift Current, Sask. James was then general manager of the Swift Current Broncos.

'SINISTER' TONE

McDuff said the abuse against him at James’ hands took on a “more sinister” tone than was present in other cases. James would guilt or deride Holt until he got his way, McDuff said. In once incident, Holt says James once told him he “held (his) hockey career in his hands … could ruin him with one phone call.”

“When there was any indication of there being non-compliance, Mr. James would effectively turn on him,” she said.

An emotional Holt read an impact statement in court which described how James wrecked his life.

“What that man did to me and many others was the cruellest form of abuse,” he said.

James, appearing thin and gaunt in court, read a prepared statement in which he apologized to his victims and the Canadian hockey community.

'I DID NOT GIVE YOU MY BEST'

“I stand before you with regret,” he said. “Parents expected their sons to be safe. Not all were,” said James. “I apologize to Theoren Fleury and to Todd Holt. I wanted the best for you, but I did not give you my best,” he said.

In asking for a conditional sentence, Roitenberg pointed to efforts James has made toward rehabilitation while in prison, and noted he has not reoffended since getting caught and convicted in the ‘90s. He said there’s no logic or basis in law for the six years the Crown is seeking.

Roitenberg argued James is a different man than he was back in 1997.

“It’s not a question of whether he can be rehabilitated, but that he has been,” the lawyer said.

Roitenberg said intense media attention surrounding the case should be factored into the punishment Carlson metes out.

“Mr. James stands before you today potentially the most hated man in Canada, certainly the most hated man in hockey,” he said. “There is nowhere for Mr. James to hide.”


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