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Graham James pleads guilty to sexually assaulting Theoren Fleury UPDATE - sentence extended to five years on appeal


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James pleaded guilty to the charges involving Fleury and another unnamed player. Charges were stayed against a third victim. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2012.

Hopefully this will give Theoren Fleury some closure.

Disgraced former hockey coach Graham James pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to charges related to repeated sexual assaults against former NHL star Theoren Fleury and another unnamed victim.

Appearing via video link to a Winnipeg court room, James admitted he repeatedly molested Fleury between Sept. 1, 1983 and Aug. 31, 1985 in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

He also admitted he repeatedly molested the other victim, who cannot be named under a publication ban, between May 1, 1989 and April 30, 1994 in Winnipeg.

James, a former coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Calgary Hitmen junior hockey teams faced nine charges related to sexual abuse involving two unnamed players and Fleury, a former star with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks.

The Crown stayed charges related to the third alleged victim.

Fleury responded to James' plea at a news conference in Calgary Wednesday afternoon. "This guilty plea is an international call to action," he said.

"These people, the rapists and their defenders alike need to take notice that victims, survivors and victors of sexual assault will stand together and we are going to change the world."

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2012 in Winnipeg.

On Jan. 6, 2010, Fleury filed a criminal complaint in Winnipeg against his former coach.

The move came after Fleury alleged in his best-selling autobiography, Playing with Fire, that he was sexually assaulted repeatedly as a teenager.

James was imprisoned for 3 1/2 years in 1997 after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting another former NHL player, Sheldon Kennedy, and another unnamed player about 350 times over 10 years. He served 18 months in prison before quietly applying for, and receiving, a pardon in 2007 that allowed him to travel freely around the world.

Revelations in 2010 that James received the pardon prompted the federal government to introduce changes to pardon eligibility in its omnibus crime bill that cleared the House of Commons Monday.

Anyone convicted of certain sex offences involving minors or anyone convicted of more than three indictable offences would be ineligible for pardons, which under the new law would be called "record suspensions.''

After James was released, he was reported to be living in Spain and Montreal, and media tracked James to Guadalajara, Mexico in 2010. He returned to Canada in October 2010, surrendering to Winnipeg police at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.


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Can someone explain the pardon James recieved in the 90's to me?

I remember when James was convicted. It was a HUGE deal, everyone was outraged by what he had done.

Then, I remember a few years later seeing video of him coaching in Italy.

I was like: "WTF?!? Did I miss something here?" A high profile child molester is free and back COACHING?

Wasd there evidence thatcame to light between the conviction and pardon that weakened the case against him or somehting?

I didn't understand it at the time and still don't.

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Can someone explain the pardon James recieved in the 90's to me?

I remember when James was convicted. It was a HUGE deal, everyone was outraged by what he had done.

Then, I remember a few years later seeing video of him coaching in Italy.

I was like: "WTF?!? Did I miss something here?" A high profile child molester is free and back COACHING?

Wasd there evidence thatcame to light between the conviction and pardon that weakened the case against him or somehting?

I didn't understand it at the time and still don't.

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Very good news!

After reading Theo Fleury's book, "Playing With Fire" it makes me happy to see him in jail. The things he did to Fleury were sickening, especially the ways it affected him.

I suggest every pickup his book, great book for a hockey fan.

Sex offender's are the worst type of criminals, I don't understand how someone can give more time to a drug addict compared to a sex offender.

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Interesting perspective from a reporter who covered James over the years and how James was master manipulator not only of his victims but also the media.

Theoren Fleury angrily labelled Graham James a “rapist’’ and a “monster” on Wednesday, while also opining that the notorious pedophile should be incarcerated for the remainder of his days.

And, once again, there were unsettling reminders of how deceiving appearances can be.

The mind flashed back to late December 1994, when James and Fleury were co-owners of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. One evening at the world junior hockey championship, which was based in Red Deer, Alta., James and Fleury were seated near one another in the upper level of the arena. I joined them during an intermission, with the intent of interviewing Fleury and chatting with James.

There wasn’t any suspicion of a problem. Fleury was a superlative interviewee, as always. James was throwing around one-liners like confetti. There was an assortment of laughs.

Barely two years later, James was convicted of 350 counts of sexual assault against former Swift Current Broncos star Sheldon Kennedy and another, unidentified victim. The disgraced coach would spend the next 3 1/2 years in prison.

James’ abhorrent behaviour made news again on Wednesday, when he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two other players, Fleury included.

Fleury, like Kennedy, decided to step forward and accentuate the abuses perpetrated by James. In the process, the control James exerted over both players became evident. Long after James had coached Fleury with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Kennedy with the Broncos, both players still associated with someone who had stolen their youth.

The aforementioned reference to late 1994 is merely one example. The previous year, Kennedy — then of the Detroit Red Wings — had visited James and the Broncos while they were representing the WHL at the Memorial Cup in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

One day, an agitated Kennedy stormed out of the Sault Memorial Gardens press box. It was clear that he had argued with James. The Broncos’ head coach and general manager was seated at the far end of the press box, from which he was scouting the opposition.

“What’s up with Sheldon?” I inquired.

“That’s just Sheldon being Sheldon,” James responded, matter-of-factly.

We left it there. It was easy — too easy — to simply presume that Kennedy was going off the rails, being that his struggles with alcohol were well-known in hockey circles at the time. A casual conversation with James quickly turned to another topic, such as the Peterborough Petes’ power play.

The story was right under my nose, and I missed it.

How did that occur? James was masterful in his manipulation of the media. Nobody was faster with a quip, or quicker to return a telephone message. He would occasionally phone even when I had not sought an interview.

One unsolicited call from James pertained to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Broncos’ bench boss heard that I had a fascination with the assassination and felt compelled to share the fact that he, too, was wondering what exactly had transpired in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Dallas, Kennedy and James eventually merged in a context I could not have imagined.

It was in Dallas, coincidentally enough, where I discovered that James had sexually assaulted Sheldon Kennedy. The news was splattered over the front page of the Jan. 3, 1997, edition of USA Today, which I was reading in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport while waiting to begin a journey back to Regina after six days of immersion in all things Lee Harvey Oswald. The previous day, as on Wednesday, James had entered a guilty plea.

The news was especially shocking in light of the fact that James had often been celebrated by many media outlets. The highly respected Hockey News had named James its man of the year for 1989. Tributes to James were commonplace, often in proximity to this byline.

James knew, all too well, that the media — and this reporter in particular — could not resist a funny line. His post-game interviews often sounded like monologues. All that was missing was a drummer to punctuate the jokes with rim shots.

In addition, James was invariably forthcoming (or so it seemed) regarding particulars about the team. His life, and the daily goings-on with the Broncos, seemed to be an open book.

Well, guess what? Fleury and Kennedy both ended up writing books in which the horrifying actions of James were detailed. Fleury and Kennedy outlined the influence that James had upon them, long after they played for him. They demonstrated remarkable courage in going public with their stories when their identities could have been protected. Some of the worst days of their lives were detailed, often with painful precision, for public consumption.

And to think that the “monster’’ who committed those reprehensible crimes once fashioned himself as hockey’s pre-eminent moralist.

One time in Saskatoon, he called me over to express disgust over the fact that a cigarette advertisement was prominently displayed in what is now known as the Credit Union Centre. On numerous other occasions, he would decry violence in hockey — this from someone who was inveterately molesting his own players.

Thankfully, Graham James’ facade was shattered long ago. The rim shots have been replaced by revulsion.

His only remaining one-liner: “Guilty.”


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Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province on how the Graham James case has haunted him for years. He says he was told about what was going on 20 years ago but never wrote about it.

The conversation happened over 20 years ago and it still sticks to me.

Oh, how it sticks to me.

Bernie Lynch, then the coach of the WHL Regina Pats, and I were chatting when the conversation turned to the Swift Current Broncos.

The Broncos, to that point in the 1988-89 season, had written a remarkable story. Two years after a bus crash had killed four of their players, they'd built a powerhouse under head coach Graham James and star forward Sheldon Kennedy.

That season they went 55-16-1 and swept all three playoff series before winning the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. Playing a dazzling speed-and-skill game, they were the talk of the league and that summer, I would write a story for The Hockey News heralding Graham James as hockey's man of the year.

Suffice to say that team and James is now remembered for other reasons.

“Do you know what's going on with Graham and Sheldon?” Lynch asked, before describing the pattern of abuse that Kennedy would make public some eight years later.

I've since asked myself five hundred times why I didn't do more to expose James; why I didn't ask more questions; why I didn't dig deeper. Lynch was hardly a WHL insider – it would be his only year coaching the Pats – and if he knew, it stood to reason others knew.

But every time the subject was raised it was dismissed out of hand. There were good people in the WHL in those days. There were good people around the Broncos. Surely, they wouldn't let this happen.

But they did, and I've carried around the guilt ever since.

I've wanted to write something about this for the past 15 years but never felt I was entitled. I'm not sure if that's changed but, somewhere in the furor over colleague Pat Hickey's depiction of Theo Fleury as a James-enabler, the Penn State football scandal and the Syracuse basketball story, maybe it’s time.

Like I said, I don't know. This is what I do know.

I wasn't a James victim. I was only tangentially connected to the story. But, standing as I was about 12 circles removed from Kennedy, the abuse still affected me in a profound way.

I've since talked about it with counselors. I've talked about it with my wife and family members. I've tried to understand it. And every time the story comes up – and it's come up a lot in the last 15 years – I'm back in the same place, asking myself why I didn't do more.

And that feeling is awful.

Over the years that's one of the things I've come to understand. The impact of sexual abuse is so powerful, so toxic, the fallout can reach some schmuck standing miles outside its ring. And if that's the case, you can then ask what it did to Kennedy and Fleury; what it did to James's other victims; what it did to their parents, to their wives, to their partners, to their children, to friends, and what it will continue to do.

This, after all, is something you deal with for the rest of your life.

If you missed it, Hickey's column in the Montreal Gazette generated considerable outrage from the Fleury camp this week. Among other thing, the journalist called Fleury an “enabler,” wondered why Fleury had stayed silent about James for all those years, wondered how the hockey player could invest in the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, then hire James as the coach after he'd suffered abuse at his hands.

I've asked myself those same questions. I've just learned not to expect any answers. Some very smart people have spent a lifetime investigating this subject and the one true thing they've uncovered is there are no true things when it comes to sexual abuse.

It affects every victim differently. It breaks some. It emboldens others. Some are able to rise above it. Some aren't. You wish you could treat it. You wish there was some prescription which would take away the pain, the shame, the guilt, and restore things as they were.

But there isn't. In the end, the only thing you can offer to the victims is support, empathy and understanding, and pray that's enough.

What happened wasn't their fault. There isn't a person on this planet who's in a position to judge them.


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  • 1 year later...

The Manitoba Court of Appeal has increased James sentence from two year to five on the appeal by the Crown.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal has increased the prison sentence of child-abusing hockey coach Graham James to five years from two.

James was convicted last year of sexually abusing retired NHL star Theo Fleury and his younger cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for James in the junior ranks.

James was given two years behind bars, but the Crown argued the trial judge erred in her application of sentencing principles and put too much weight on the 3 1/2 years he received in 1997 for abusing other young players.

"The sentencing in this case was high-profile in nature, and it involved historical sexual assaults against two young victims who found the courage and will to come forward many years after the offences occurred," Justice Alan MacInnes wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

"The decision of the (trial) judge was thorough and thoughtful. Notwithstanding, I have concluded that she erred."

At the appeal hearing, the Crown argued four years would have been a more appropriate sentence considering the nature of the offences.

James's lawyer Evan Roitenberg argued the trial judge took into consideration the 15 years between his client's first sentence in 1997 and his subsequent rehabilitation.

"This is a great day for all survivors," Fleury said in a post on Twitter shortly after the Appeal Court decision was released.


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