Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

James pleads guilty to sex assaults

Former junior hockey coach abused Fleury, another boy

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He was once a flamboyant, larger-than-life figure who craved the public spotlight as one of the country's most prominent junior hockey coaches.

Yet the man who brought national shame to the sport now seems to be doing everything possible to shield himself from scrutiny.

A thin, frail-looking Graham James appeared by video link in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday and meekly answered "Guilty" to repeatedly sexually abusing two more former players. His lawyer, Evan Roitenberg, had flown to Montreal to be with him, thus avoiding the circus-like atmosphere that would have resulted if James had walked through the front doors of the Winnipeg Law Courts to face the music. James, as is his legal right, chose the remote appearance to admit responsibility for crimes that occurred from 1983 to 1994. But he won't be able to avoid the media glare for much longer -- James is required to return to Winnipeg and personally appear at his sentencing hearing on Feb. 22.

Until then, he remains free on bail, living in Quebec.

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said there is no deal with James and she will ask for a penitentiary sentence. Roitenberg did not say what sentence he will seek for his client, although legal experts believe he will argue for little, if any, further custody.

McDuff told court the delay in sentencing is due largely to the fact she's waiting on a psychiatric report on James to be completed by a doctor who has been meeting with him.

James was arrested last year on charges involving three alleged victims, which date back as far as 1979. One of them is former NHL star Theoren Fleury, who went public with allegations against James in a bestselling autobiography called Playing With Fire he released two years ago.

James admitted Wednesday to molesting Fleury on numerous occasions while coaching him from 1983 to 1985 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The crimes included ones when Fleury was asleep and escalated both in volume and seriousness, court was told.

"There were a number of incidents of a sexual nature which occurred during that time," McDuff said. "At the sentencing there will be quite a great deal of additional information relating to that."

James also admitted to "virtually similar" attacks on another former player from 1989 to 1994 in Saskatchewan. That victim's name is protected by a publication ban.

The Crown stayed charges against James relating to the alleged third victim, who requested that a publication ban be lifted so his name could be released. That man, Greg Gilhooly, was not in court Wednesday. McDuff said charges relating to Gilhooly were dropped after lengthy consultation, and that allowed the case against James to be "expedited" by ending the necessity of holding a trial.

Wednesday wasn't the first time James avoided a public firestorm. Last December, James secretly regained his freedom and took a one-way trip to Montreal while the rest of the country believed he was still behind bars in Winnipeg.

James was quietly released from the Headingley Correctional Centre after meeting conditions of his bail, which had been granted earlier in the week by provincial court Judge Rocky Pollack. The release came despite the fact lawyers had stated on the record they would be returning to court the following week to finalize his release.

"Why does the justice system sneak around, not make us aware James was let out? Are they afraid of public backlash?" Fleury said on his personal Twitter account.

James was previously convicted in 1997 of sexual assaults against three other former players and served 31/2 years in prison. One of those players was former NHL star Sheldon Kennedy, who has also gone public with the story of his abuse.

James had been living in Mexico but agreed to turn himself in to Canadian authorities last year after Fleury, Gilhooly and the third man went to police.

In the book, Fleury wrote James recruited him at the age of 13 to play in Winnipeg and then Moose Jaw. He said James frequently molested him but bought his silence by threatening his dream of one day playing in the NHL.

James received a controversial pardon in 2007 for his original set of offences, but that was revoked after his most recent arrest. The Conservative government has since revamped the pardon system, especially for convicted sex offenders like James.

Legal experts told the Free Press the case against James is complicated by the fact he has already been charged, convicted, sentenced and even pardoned for more than 100 similar offences that occurred during the same general time period against other former players.

"This isn't a matter of just adding up the number of victims and multiplying by a certain amount to get a sentence," said Debra Parkes, a law professor at the University of Manitoba.

She said the Canadian justice system is required to factor in the principle of "totality" when deciding on a sentence, meaning a judge would have to take into consideration the prison time James already served and how much it would have been increased, at the time, if these latest victims had come forward by then.

"You can't revisit the earlier sentence. That would be double jeopardy," Parkes said.

Chronology of a pedophile

WINNIPEG -- A chronology of Graham James's career and legal history:

Feb. 7, 1952: Graham James is born in Summerside, P.E.I.

1965: Moves to Winnipeg at age 13.

1970s: Quits hockey as a player because of asthma. Graduates from university and works briefly as a substitute teacher before beginning coaching career.

1979-83: Coaches junior hockey, wins provincial title with the Fort Garry Blues.

1983-84: Named head scout of the Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Warriors and recruits Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy.

1984: Hired as head coach of the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors.

1986: Hired as head coach and general manager of WHL's Swift Current Broncos; acquires Kennedy in a trade. The team bus is in a crash that kills four players.

1986-94: Broncos win WHL titles in 1989 and 1993, and a Memorial Cup.

1994: Joins Calgary Hitmen as part-owner, general manager and head coach.

Nov. 22, 1996: Calgary police charge James with two counts of sexual assault involving more than 300 incidents against two of his former players over 10 years.

Jan. 2, 1997: Pleads guilty to sexual assault and is sentenced to 31/2 years in prison. The Canadian Hockey Association imposes a lifetime ban on coaching.

Feb. 27, 1998: James pleads guilty to a 1971 indecent assault on a 14-year-old boy and gets a six-month concurrent sentence.

July 1, 2000: James's sentence expires.

2001-03: James coaches in Spain.

2003: A civil lawsuit filed in 1999 by an anonymous victim is settled out of court. James, in Spain, tells a Saskatchewan reporter: "I'm sorry for all of this."

2007: James applies for and receives a pardon from the National Parole Board, prompting outrage when The Canadian Press reports it several years later.

October 2009: Fleury releases his autobiography Playing with Fire, which says James molested him from age 14.

January 2010: Fleury files a complaint with the Winnipeg Police Service, prompting an investigation.

May 2010: Reporters track down James in Guadalajara, Mexico. James refers questions to his Winnipeg lawyer.

October 2010: Winnipeg police issue a Canada-wide warrant for James on nine new sex charges involving three boys from 1979 to 1994. James is apprehended by police at Toronto's Pearson airport and brought back to Winnipeg.

December 2010: James is granted bail and moves to Montreal.

Dec. 7, 2011: James pleads guilty to sexual offences involving Fleury and an unnamed victim.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2011 A4

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