WINNIPEG – Reviled one-time junior hockey coach Graham James was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for sexually preying on two of his former players.
spectator in the courtroom shouted “Yay,” then spat out an expletive as
James shook his lawyer’s hand and was led away in handcuffs and taken
“Goodbye, you piece of (expletive),” the man said after Judge Catherine Carlson handed down her sentence.
Carlson made James stand up in the prisoner’s box to hear his fate.
He showed no emotion, but simply answered “yes” when she asked him if he understood the sentence.
pleaded guilty in December to repeatedly sexually abusing retired NHL
star Theo Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for him in
the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and ’90s.
victims are multiple,” Carlson said. “His behaviour was predatory and
orchestrated to make victims dependent on him.”
Carlson ordered that James have no contact with either of them.
Holt, 39, responded immediately with disappointment.
sentence today is nothing short of a national travesty because we know
that childhood abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country,”
he read from a statement at a news conference in Cochrane, Alta.
“Graham James is laughing all the way back to the life he has always led, knowing that justice for him is but a blip on the radar.”
Crown had requested six years in prison, while James’s lawyer wanted a
conditional sentence of up to 18 months with no jail time.
Crown attorney Colleen McDuff argued James violated the trust of his players and was at a high risk to reoffend.
Defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg said James had become the most “hated man in hockey” and had been punished enough.
took Carlson almost 1 1/2 hours to outline the reasons for her
decision. She characterized the case as complicated, but indicated that
probation alone was not an option.
She acknowledged the significant attention the case garnered and the understandable public outrage it generated.
is no sentence this court can impose that will give back to Mr. Holt
and Mr. Fleury that which was taken by Mr. James,” she said.
said it was obvious James had “total control” over the teens he
molested, because he threatened to end their promising hockey careers if
they said anything.
Aggravating factors were that the victims were under 18 and James abused his position of trust, she said.
“The nature of the assaults were degrading and humiliating to these teenage boys,” Carlson said.
“Mr. James’s actions have had a significant long-term and devastating impact on the victims.”
the judge also pointed out that James expressed remorse, apologized to
his victims and has experienced what she called “an extreme degree of
humiliation” – factors that warranted a reduction in his sentence.
said James could have fought extradition from Mexico, where he had been
living, but voluntarily came back to face the charges. He pleaded
guilty and has kept a regular full-time job.
The Crown had
requested six years in prison, while James’s lawyer wanted a conditional
sentence of up to 18 months with no jail time.
one-time coach was wearing a red ski mask which concealed the lower
portion of his face when he arrived at the courthouse. His lawyer
politely shouted at photographers to get out of the way.
avoided eye contact with one of his other victims, former NHLer Sheldon
Kennedy, as well as Greg Gilhooly, another player who alleges he was
assaulted by the former coach, but charges related to his allegations
Kennedy was one of the original players to come
forward with accusations to which James pleaded guilty in 1997. He
served about 18 months of a 3 1/2 year-sentence before he got out of
jail in 2000 and dropped out of public view.
“Obviously, it’s not a sentence we all want to see,” Kennedy said outside the courthouse. “At least he’s going back to jail.”
“It’s unfathomable that a guy like Graham
gets two years for what he did,” added Gilhooly. “But at the same time,
he is going to jail. He’ll be in jail tonight. He’s going to a
penitentiary – and that’s a good thing.”
Gilhooly admitted to
some satisfaction in seeing James sent to prison again, even though
Gilhooly’s accusations were never dealt with in court.
wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” he said. “Does it change my life on a
go-forward basis? No. But did it put a smile on my face?
During sentencing arguments last month on the
most-recent charges, court heard that James would single out his young
victims and keep them close to him. He often separated them from their
families by convincing their parents the teens needed tutoring and had
to spend nights at his apartment.
The assaults began as fondling
or groping while Fleury or Holt slept, but escalated as the boys became
exhausted from fighting off the advances. Eventually, Holt was offered
money by James in exchange for sexual acts. Both Fleury and Holt
estimate they were assaulted hundreds of times.
At the hearing,
the Crown’s McDuff pointed out that James was highly respected in the
hockey world. She said he violated that respect and told his victims he
could make or break their careers with a phone call if they didn’t
Both Fleury and Holt said the legacy of James’s molestation lasted for years.
“I was just a kid. A child,” Fleury said in his victim impact statement. “I was completely under Graham
James’s control. And I was scared. I did not have the emotional skills,
the knowledge or the ability to stop the rapes or change my
circumstances. I felt lost, alone and helpless.”
Roitenberg argued James has gone through the therapy required of him and
has channelled his desires to youthful-looking adults instead of
children. A defence psychiatrist said James is at low risk to reoffend.
Gilhooly said he and Kennedy had spent much more time in therapy than James will have spent in jail.
James rose to address his victims for the first time at his sentencing
hearing. He apologized to everyone from the hockey-loving public to the
families of his players. He apologized to Fleury and Holt last.
wanted the best for you, but I did not give you my best. My actions
forfeited our friendship. It is sad irony that it is you, being among
the persons I liked the most, today like me the least,” he said.
“I am deeply sorry. I was wrong.”
apology rang hollow for many who knew James. Gilhooly was in the
courtroom that day last month and returned Tuesday to see him sentenced.
Watching the former coach learn his fate is only one step in a
lifetime of recovery, Gilhooly said.
“I believe this is something
that I’m going to have to fight for the rest of my life. Until they can
invent a pill that controls what you dream at night or what you have as
a nightmare, you are never really over this stuff.”