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Outrage as ex-coach gets 2 years for molesting former NHL players

By Paula Newton, CNN
updated 5:08 PM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James sentenced to 2 years for sex abuse
  • Sentence was for sexually abusing two men when they were aspiring teen hockey players
  • Now-retired NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin Todd Holt, were victims
  • Sentence is "nothing short of a national travesty," says Holt

Ottawa, Canada (CNN) -- Victims of former Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James expressed anger Tuesday as he was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually abusing now-retired National Hockey League star Theo Fleury and another player, his cousin Todd Holt, when they were teenagers.

"The sentence today was nothing short of a national travesty because we know that childhood abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country," said Holt as he read from a statement on behalf of himself, Fleury and their families.

"He conned the judge with his 'poor me' and 'I regret' statements," he said, "and Graham James is laughing all the way back to the life he's always lived, knowing that justice for him is but a blip on the radar screen."

James, 59, entered the courtroom in Winnipeg, Manitoba, wearing a red ski mask to conceal his face.

Later in court, the judge who ruled on the sentence acknowledged it could not make up for the lifetime of damage and pain inflicted by James.

Judge Catherine Carlson ‪said she realized James' victims were multiple and that his behavior was predatory and orchestrated to make victims dependent on him.

Still, she stopped short of issuing the six-year term the prosecution was seeking, saying James had shown remorse and was receiving help.

"To sit in there and hear that Graham James was rehabilitated really drives me nuts and I think that was probably the most disturbing part of it all," said former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy who was also sexually abused by James.

But Kennedy did say that the case offered hope and a platform for change.

"We need to come forward because not only do we need to heal and get our power back but we need to keep coming forward so we can keep raising the bar," he said.

James pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually abusing Kennedy. He served 18 months of a three-and-a-half year sentence and was released in 2000 and pardoned in 2007. Since then, the Canadian government has banned pardons for those convicted of sexual assault against minors.

Twitter, call-in shows and Canadian websites all fielded hundreds of comments and postings from people who said they believed the sentence was too lenient. Many said they expected James to serve less than two years in prison.

In evidence, the court heard that James lured players with money, gifts and trips to Disneyland, where he took advantage of them. Victims also testified that he always reminded them of his influence in helping them break into the pro ranks of hockey.

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