Sentencing reduction for serial sex offender Matthew McKnight sparks uproar in Edmonton courtroom


Matthew McKnight comes off the court during a hiatus in Edmonton on Wednesday July 8, 2020.

The canadian press

An Edmonton judge ruled that five sexual assaults by Matthew McKnight were worth 16 and a half years in prison – but cut that amount by more than half taking into account factors like an assault he suffered in custody, his “Lifestyle changes” and its potential for rehabilitation. Most of the reduction came from the aggregate, the principle that aggregate sentences for multiple offenses should not be excessive.

“I have no doubts that he has an excellent chance of rehabilitating himself,” said Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Doreen Sulyma, sentencing Mr McKnight to a total of eight years in prison.

As she announced the sentence, one of the many young women watching the proceedings rushed to the defense table, knocking a computer screen on the ground. As the sheriffs surrounded her and pulled her out of the courtroom, the woman shouted, “I was 17! I was 17!

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Other women in the courtroom cried and screamed, calling the judge “misogynistic” and “sympathetic,” and yelling at Mr. McKnight as courthouse security guards poured into the room, and Judge Sulyma cleared the court.

It was the emotional end of one of the city’s longest-running criminal trials in recent memory, and what was to be one of the first major criminal cases of the #MeToo era in Canada.

He said, they said: in the Matthew McKnight trial

Mr McKnight, now 33, was at one point faced with 26 sexual assault charges against 21 women, but was tried last fall on 13 counts of sexual assault and was convicted by a jury in January on five counts.

Mr McKnight was a well-known bar promoter and co-owner of Knoxville’s country party bar when he was indicted in 2016. During the trial, the court learned that he had been a powerful figure in the bar scene of Edmonton, known for its extravagant outfits, generous free drinks and frequent after-parties. The women who testified spoke in court about the nights they accepted drinks from Mr McKnight, then woke up after long periods of blackouts to have Mr McKnight sexually assaulted them. They said they were unable to move, were afraid for their lives, and in some cases got sick and vomited.

The first three women came forward in 2016, and the others followed after news of the accusations became public. The oldest allegation dates back to 2010.

The prosecution had asked for a sentence of 22.5 years, while the defense pleaded for five to nine years.

Edmonton Bar promoter set to spend five to nine years in prison for sexual assault, defense lawyer says

Crown calls for 22.5 year sentence for Edmonton bar promoter Matthew McKnight, convicted of five sexual assaults

In her ruling, Judge Sulyma said she did not find drugs in any of the cases, but found aggravating factors, including that Mr McKnight refused to wear a condom and that one of the victims had bruises which she said was violent in the exchange.

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But Judge Sulyma said other aspects of her behavior during the assaults – such as Mr. McKnight telling a woman the rape was her fault because “only whores work in Knoxville” – were not aggravating.

It awarded Mr. McKnight a 40 per cent reduction in the total sentence, on the grounds that a sentence of 16.5 years would be “disproportionate”. She then reduced the sentence to one year for being beaten by another detainee after her arrest in 2016, and then another year based on her prospects for rehabilitation and “lifestyle change”, including court heard that he had quit drinking and had not had sex with women since his arrest.

“I’m also of the opinion that he is well aware that it’s not a lifestyle issue anymore,” she said.

Federal offenders in Canada are generally eligible for parole after serving one-third of their sentence.

Reading his decision, a number of young women involved in the case stood up and stood in front of the spectators area where they were holding hands. Their faces were hidden by masks, some sewn with a handprint over their mouth.

Among them were women Mr. McKnight was convicted of assaulting, women he was found not guilty of assault and others, whose charges were never tried.

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Mr McKnight, who had wiped away a tear as he read a statement to court last week in which he expressed remorse but did not acknowledge his guilt, appeared emotionless. After the conviction, he was taken into custody.

Matthew McKnight expresses remorse, but not guilt, in speech at sentencing hearing

Meanwhile, the women gathered in the hallway, closely watched by a contingent of sheriffs.

“Sixteen and a half sounded good, that suited me. And then she kept lowering it, lowering it and lowering it, ”said one of the victims. She was shaking and had to sit on the floor to speak. In her victim impact statement, she described the profound effects the assault had on her relationships, career and mental health.

“I have a feeling the justice system has let down all women who have suffered any form of sexual assault,” she said.

The identity of the women involved in the case is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

Outside the court, defense lawyer Dino Bottos said he had not spoken to his client, but said: “He would have been satisfied with the sentence. “

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Mr. Bottos said he too felt “very good about the sentence,” and also about the judge’s conclusion that the rapes were not a systemic attack, “but rather five separate and independent sexual assaults. “

During the trial, Mr McKnight said he slept with 200 to 300 women over a six-year period and said the women who came forward to accuse him of rape were all wrong or lied to the about their experiences with him.

Mr McKnight had never been convicted before and Mr Bottos had argued that his client’s prospects for rehabilitation were good because he is smart, comes from a good family and has good family support. His father offered him a job in his investment company after his release from prison.

Mr. Bottos added that in sentence terms, “the masses and the bloodthirsty will never be satisfied. “

As he spoke, some of the women involved in the case walked past the reporters and pointed at him.

Crown Attorney Mark Huyser-Wierenga, however, said the judgment “is what it is” and the Crown will consider an appeal.

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He noted that critics of the justice system have said it needs to do better to deal with allegations of sexual violence, and asked the rhetorical question: “An eight-year sentence for someone who is properly classified as a serial rapist.” , is it sufficient? ”

“Sexual violence is far too prevalent, and myths and stereotypes about what a sex offender looks like still preoccupy the criminal justice system,” he said.

When asked if the women in the case got justice, Mr Huyser-Wierenga replied that it was a question for them. But, he added, “It raises deeper questions, I guess, about what justice is.”

Speaking to media outside the court, the first woman to come forward in 2016 – and one of those Mr McKnight was found not guilty of assault – expressed disappointment at the verdict, but also said she was happy he was sentenced for everything.

“It’s kind of a loss, but at the end of the day, we’ve always done it together. It is still difficult to put a rapist in jail for eight years… ”, she declared. “In the end, it’s kinda worth knowing that we did it together and that he still has time, because it’s hard to do… For the first time, now, we’re starting to have a voice.

Another woman Mr McKnight was also found not guilty of assault said she had prepared for a very light sentence, but wondered what effect the case might have on other victims, in other cases.

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“Who is going to come forward now?” she asked. “Who is going to come forward now?”

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