WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Disgraced junior hockey coach Graham James was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for sexually preying on two of his former players.
James stood in the prisoner’s box and showed no emotion as he learned his fate. James shook his lawyer’s hand and was led away in handcuffs.
Judge Catherine Carlson called James’ behavior “predatory and orchestrated to make victims dependent on him.” The judge ordered that James to have no contact with Fleury or Holt.
The government requested six years in prison. James’s lawyer wanted a conditional sentence of up to 18 months with no jail time.
James pleaded guilty in December to repeatedly sexually abusing NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and ’90s.
The 39-year-old Holt called the sentence a “national travesty.”
“We know that childhood abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country,” he said, reading a statement at a news conference in Cochrane, Alberta. “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 attorney Colleen McDuff argued James violated the trust of his players and was a high risk to offend again. Defense lawyer Evan Roitenberg said James had become the most “hated man in hockey” and was punished enough.
It took Carlson almost 1½ hours to outline the reasons for her decision. She indicated that probation alone was not an option and acknowledged the public outrage the case drew.
“There 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.
She said it was clear James had “total control” over the teens he molested because he threatened to end their promising hockey careers if they said anything.
“The nature of the assaults were degrading and humiliating to these teenage boys,” Carlson said.
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 sentence reduction.
She 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.
James was wearing a red ski mask that concealed the lower part of his face when he arrived at the courthouse. He avoided eye contact with one of his other victims, former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, as well as Greg Gilhooly, another player who alleges he was assaulted by the former coach. Gilhooly’s accusations were never dealt with in court.
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 3½-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.”
Added Gilhooly: “It’s unfathomable that a guy like Graham gets two years for what he did.”
During sentencing arguments last month on the most recent charges, the court heard how James would single out young victims and keep them close. 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 for sexual acts. Fleury and Holt estimate they were assaulted hundreds of times.
“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.”