Graham James apologizes to victims, hockey community
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2012 7:21PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:32AM EDT
Convicted sex offender and former junior hockey coach Graham James apologized to his victims and the entire Canadian hockey community in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday.
James made the apology at his sentencing hearing after the Crown urged the judge to consider a six-year jail sentence. Justice Catherine Carlson has reserved her decision and will sentence James on March 20.
"I stand before you with regret," James told the court. "I apologize to the Canadian hockey public ... and to the institution of hockey. I apologize to the people and fans in communities where I coached. I apologize to the players that I coached.
"I apologize to Theoren Fleury and to Todd Holt," he continued, addressing his victims. "I wanted the best for you but did not give you my best. My actions forfeited our friendship."
Holt's name had previously been under a publication ban, but that was lifted Wednesday.
James's lawyer, Evan Roitenberg said his client is rehabilitated and asked for a conditional sentence of 12 to 18 months, with no jail time.
"You can't sentence to appease the public," Roitenberg told the judge.
Earlier Wednesday, court heard how James groomed his former players, retired NHL star Fleury and his cousin Holt, for sexual abuse and manipulated them by saying he could make or break their careers. Before the abuse allegations surfaced, James was a respected coach.
He was eventually arrested and faced nine charges dating back to between 1979 and 1994 and involving Fleury, Holt and Greg Gilhooly, who never played for James but said he was also abused by him.
James pleaded guilty in December to sexually abusing Fleury and Holt, but the charges involving Gilhooly were stayed.
In their victim impact statements, Fleury and Holt described how James's abuse shattered them.
Fleury was not in court on Wednesday, but wrote in his statement that James deserved harsh punishment for betraying his trust.
"When you consider punishment for Graham James I ask this court to think not only about the law, but also about that scared little boy who had nowhere to turn, nowhere to run and nowhere to hide each and every time Graham James raped me," the statement said.
Fleury has called for a 27-year sentence for James -- the sentence he says he has effectively had to serve since he was first abused by his coach.
Fleury estimates he was assaulted about 150 times in total. He said he was "completely" under James's control, who promised to get him into the NHL.
"I did not have the emotional skills, the knowledge or the ability to stop the rapes or change my circumstances," he wrote. "I felt lost, alone, and helpless."
Crown Attorney Colleen McDuff said Holt, who played with the WHL Swift Current Broncos, endured hundreds of James's assaults from 1989 until 1994.
James eventually began offering money to Holt in exchange for sexual acts, McDuff said.
The Crown also cited a psychiatrist's report that said James is "indifferent and remote, rarely responsive to the actions and feelings of others, and chooses solitary activities."
The doctor said James still has "deeply engrained erotic preferences" which require long-term treatment.
But James is not the "beast" everyone thinks he is, Roitenberg told court. He said his client had been struggling with his sexuality and "his lust overcame his good judgment."
As a result, James has endured threats, shame and has become the "most hated man in hockey," Roitenberg said.
CTV's Jill Macyshon reported that James looked frail in court and has lost a lot of weight since he was last seen in public.
Gilhooly and another former player who was under James' tutelage, Sheldon Kennedy, were in court Wednesday to witness the sentencing.
Kennedy came forward in 1997 to accuse James of abusing him sexually for years. James was convicted of roughly 350 sexual abuse charges related to Kennedy and served 18 months of a three-and-a-half year prison sentence, before receiving a controversial pardon in 2007.
For over a decade, James was a free man, travelling and living in Europe and Mexico, according to reports. He'd also been working and living in Montreal.
Fleury, who was a teammate of Kennedy's, eventually came forward with his own accusations against James, detailing some of them in his autobiography.
Though the victims have demanded jail time for their abuser, Kennedy told a Senate committee on Tuesday he expects James to receive a conditional sentence.
"You know, Graham James is going to walk -- again. That's not right."
Kennedy, who like Fleury has become an advocate for victims of sexual abuse, urged senators to support the mandatory minimum sentences for sexual abusers included in the Conservatives' omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10.
Kennedy said he hopes those provisions would encourage more victims to tell their stories.
Gilhooly has said he's also preparing himself for the possibility that James will walk free -- an outcome he said he would profoundly disagree with.
"In many ways Graham is no different than (serial child killer) Clifford Olson, except that Graham decided to leave his victims alive at the very end after doing what he did with them," Gilhooly said in a report by the Canadian Press.
"Graham is a serial pedophile, who picked and chose his victim, and then moved on to the next, and the next, and the next. If our court system believes that the sentence he received the first time is adequate, I say the court system is an ass."
With files from The Canadian Press