Court reserves ruling on Graham James sentence appeal

Manitoba's top court must decide whether to extend the prison sentence handed to Graham James, the former junior hockey coach and convicted sex offender, following an appeal hearing in Winnipeg.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal hearing on Monday was prompted by Crown prosecutors, who are challenging the two-year sentence James was given in March, saying he got off too lightly.

The hearing wrapped up at 12:30 p.m. CT with the three-judge panel reserving its decision to a later date. The court did not say when that ruling will be issued.

James was sentenced on March 20 for sexually assaulting now retired NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt. Both were teens playing in the Western Hockey League when the incidents took place during the 1980s and early '90s.

The Crown had asked for six years behind bars for the crimes. The two-year sentence sparked outrage across the country.

At Monday's hearing, which James did not attend, defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg argued that his client's prison term should not be extended.

Roitenberg told the court that James believed he was engaged with consensual and loving relationships with his victims.

But Justice Allan MacInnes, one of the three judges on the Court of Appeal panel, challenged that argument and asked why James then threatened his victims over their hockey careers if they didn't go along with it.

Crown prosecutor Elizabeth Thomson argued that provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson, who presided over the trial, put too much weight on the sentence James received in 1997 for abusing other young hockey players.

James previously served time behind bars for sexually assaulting ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and two other young players. He was sentenced to 3½ years in prison, but served just 18 months before being released.

Thomson said James "has to pay a price for what he did to these victims and the community."

In his submission to the Appeal Court, Roitenberg said Carlson took everything into account she should have and there's no reason to change the two-year sentence.

That said, he added, he is "defending a sentence I can't agree with, because it's more than I had asked for."

Roitenberg had asked for a conditional sentence with no jail time, saying James had been punished enough.

On Monday, Roitenberg repeated his prior remarks that James had proved his rehabilitation, having not reoffended in the last 15 years and even returning to Canada from Mexico in 2010 to face his offences and a media spotlight "so bright."

Greg Gilhooly has alleged he was abused by James as a high-school student, although he agreed to have those charges stayed in an arrangement with Crown prosecutors to expedite their case involving Fleury and Holt.

"Graham's lawyer has done a great job of portraying Graham as a victim, a hard-done-by reformed man who simply didn't understand he was doing wrong back then," said Gilhooly, now a corporate lawyer based in Oakville, Ont.

"Well, Graham was a man who covered his windows so that the world couldn't see exactly what he was doing to us. Graham deserves to rot in hell."

Gilhooly said he wants to see a greater emphasis on victims and tougher sentences for offenders like James.

"He's a monster," he said.

"To sit through some of the stuff that was said in court again today about 'poor Graham' and how he's been villainized, it's disgusting."

James is already eligible for parole, but the National Parole Board says it has not received any applications from him.

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