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Manitoba Appeal Court increases sentence for sex offender Graham James

Graham James arrives at court for sentencing in Winnipeg on March 20, 2012.


Graham James arrives at court for sentencing in Winnipeg on March 20, 2012.

Manitoba's highest court has drastically increased the prison sentence given to notorious child-abusing hockey coach Graham James.

The Court of Appeal announced Friday morning they were overturning the two-year term given last year to James and replacing it with a five-year stint behind bars.

They said the original penalty was much too lenient.

James, 59, admitted last March to sexually abusing two players on hundreds of occasions between 1983 and 1994.

"This is a great day for all survivors," former NHL star Theoren Fleury said on his Twitter account following Friday's decision.

Prosecutor Liz Thomson argued last December the penalty James received -- dubbed a "national travesty" by his two victims -- was not nearly enough. She was seeking a six-year sentence, saying it's the only way to express society's condemnation of such a crime.

"He has to pay the price for what he did to the victims and the community," she argued.

But defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg urged the three-justice panel not to interfere, saying James is a changed man who has earned a second chance. He said the fact James has gone nearly two decades since he offended without being arrested again shows he is no longer a public danger.

"There is proven rehabilitation here," said Roitenberg. He suggested his client was under the mistaken belief his young players were interested in romantic relationships with him.

"You are pushing a big rock up a steep hill if you want me to accept that," said Appeal Court Justice Alan MacInnes."What occurred here was incredibly egregious. He was not just their guardian, he controlled their futures. He effectively destroyed them by his conduct."

James, 59, pleaded guilty to abusing Fleury and Todd Holt while coaching them during the 1980s and early '90s in the Western Hockey League. Fleury went on to become a star in the National Hockey League.

At his original sentencing hearing, Crown attorney Colleen McDuff told court James specifically targeted players for abuse, even making trades in the WHL "for players he thought were good-looking.

"In their notice of appeal, the Crown argued provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson erred in her approach to the sentence, overemphasized the significance of prior sentences for similar offences and erred in assessing the "totality principle," which holds that jail time for multiple offences must be fair and reasonable when added together.

James was previously sentenced in 1997 to 31/2 years for sexual assaults on three other junior hockey players around the same time he abused Fleury and Holt. But both those victims waited until years after the fact to go to police.James received a controversial pardon in 2007 for his earlier set of offences, but it was revoked after his most recent arrest.

He became eligible for day parole last September after serving six months of his sentence. He became eligible for full parole when he served one-third of his sentence by late November. However, the National Parole Board did not receive any applications from him.

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