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Notorious coach may soon exit prison

He would be rearrested if Appeal Court ups term

Graham James


Graham James

THERE'S a good chance Graham James will learn his legal fate from the comfort of his home and not the confines of a prison cell.

Manitoba's highest court has reserved judgment on whether to increase the two-year sentence the notorious former junior hockey coach got last March for sexually abusing two players on hundreds of occasions between 1983 and 1994,

Todd Holt

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Theoren Fleury

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Theoren Fleury (POSTMEDIA PNG)

The Court of Appeal heard arguments Monday but gave no indication when they might reach a decision. James, 59, is in custody but already eligible to apply for parole at any time. He is eligible for statutory release next July.

Prosecutor Liz Thomson told court the penalty James received -- dubbed a "national travesty" by his two victims -- was not nearly enough. She is arguing for 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 earlier this year to abusing Theoren 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.

James did not appear at the hearing Monday. If the high court orders additional jail time and James has already been released on parole, he will be rearrested.

At his sentencing hearing earlier this year, 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 in 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 says it has not received any applications from him.

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