Edmonton bar promoter convicted on five counts of sexual assault

Former Edmonton bar promoter Matthew McKnight was convicted Thursday of five counts sexual assault.

After deliberating for more than two days, the jury found him not guilty on eight other sex assault charges. 

The 33-year old showed no emotion in the prisoner's box as the jury read the verdicts.

Outside court, defence lawyer Dino Bottos said he and McKnight were both "saddened" by the trial outcome.

"We did our best to show Matthew McKnight's innocence," Bottos said. "We always knew this was going to be a difficult case to win and to run the table essentially on 13 counts."

McKnight was accused of sexually assaulting 13 women between 2010 and 2016.

Twelve of the women testified at his trial, providing sexually explicit accounts that often became emotional.

The women met McKnight at nightclubs and most were invited back to his downtown apartment for an after-party. All but one of the alleged assaults took place in McKnight's bedroom or bathroom.

But the jury was only convinced by the women's accounts beyond a reasonable doubt in five of the cases. 

Four of the five women McKnight was convicted of assaulting told the jury they thought he might have drugged them before they were assaulted. They testified about blacking out and waking up naked in McKnight's bed or in his shower. 

One victim testified McKnight sent her a text message after she was sexually assaulted, suggesting she take a morning after pill. 

During the trial, Bottos suggested some of the complainants had fallen prey to the power of suggestion after Edmonton police issued news releases about the case in August and September of 2016.

McKnight was acquitted of sexually assaulting the first two women who came forward to complain about him before any charges were laid in 2016 and prior to the media publicity.

'A significant penitentiary term'

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma thanked the jury for their dedication and careful consideration and dismissed them. 

At that point, Crown prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga asked the judge to revoke McKnight's bail. 

"These are major sexual assaults," Huyser-Wierenga said. "He's looking at a significant penitentiary term."

The defence suggested it could be dangerous for McKnight to return to the Edmonton Remand Centre. 

Craig Ryan/CBC

"When he was first arrested he was very, very badly beaten in the remand centre," Bottos said. "So much so that he had to be hospitalized." 

Bottos argued that McKnight has no prior criminal record and has been abiding by strict bail conditions.

The judge agreed to allow McKnight to remain free on bail until he is sentenced.

Dates for the sentencing hearing will be set at his next court appearance on Feb. 7.

Outside the courtroom, Bottos told reporters he's worried about his client's safety behind bars. 

"I fear that when he's re-incarcerated — because he will be re-incarcerated — his life could be in danger," Bottos said. "The time that he will go to prison will be a very difficult time."

Bottos expects his client will be given a lengthy sentence, but said he has not decided yet how many years he will ask the judge to impose.  

"The starting point sentence for a major sexual assault is three years," Bottos said. "But you don't just go five times three. There's a totality principle involved and there's also other mitigating factors."

Bottos said he is considering an appeal.

McKnight still faces charges of sexual and common assault against two other women. Those cases are scheduled to be heard in two jury trials later this year.