Matthew McKnight sex assault sentencing hearing continues, judge to rule on July 31
Matthew McKnight walks out of court during a break in Edmonton on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. McKnight, 33, was accused of sexually assaulting 13 women ranging in age from 17 to 22 between 2010 and 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
EDMONTON -- Warning: this story contains disturbing details.
An Alberta Court of Queen's Bench judge in Edmonton is scheduled to sentence a former nightclub promoter on July 31 for five convictions of sex assault.
Matthew McKnight, 33, was accused of sexually assaulting 13 women ranging in age from 17 to 22 from 2010 until 2016, when he worked at Knoxville's Tavern.
In January, a jury convicted him on five of those counts after he had pleaded not guilty.
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Defence lawyer Dino Bottos concluded his sentencing arguments today, and continued to make his case that McKnight should receive a sentence of between five and nine years.
On Thursday, Bottos continued his sentencing arguments by citing case law from similar prior rulings. He noted that in Alberta, the starting point for a sexual assault sentence is three years.
"Starting points are a guideline. They’re a starting point, not an ending point," Bottos said.
He says McKnight's five convictions should not all carry equal weight in sentencing.
"The subject, individual offender and society will have already learned a lesson from the first conviction and sanction, lessening the need to punish to the same degree with each subsequent sentence," he said.
"If you aggregate a series of major sexual assaults, if you aggregate a sentence of serious offences, that does crush a person and it’s in those circumstances that totality must be more carefully considered."
In the afternoon, Bottos presented six factors he believes should mitigate McKnight's sentence. Those included how McKnight had suffered vigilante justice in a 2016 beating by a fellow inmate at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
Bottos also noted what he called an "inordinate" amount of public condemnation as well as how McKnight was a first-time offender and had complied with his bail conditions for nearly four years.
"He's suffered far more than your average sex offender."
In its submissions, the Crown told the court it is seeking a 22 1/2 year prison sentence.
The hearing is now expected to conclude on Friday, the seventh day of sentencing proceedings, with more sentencing arguments from the Crown.
Judge Doreen Sulyma told the court she will pass sentence on McKnight on July 31, pending any delays on Friday.
'A VENGEFUL SENTENCE'
Last week, Bottos argued that the Crown had "lost perspective in this case."
"I've never been involved in a case where Crown and defence have been so far apart," Bottos said.
"Their submissions seem to be calling for a vengeful sentence," he said.
"Something that may make some people in this public feel good. It may quench their thirst for blood, however that's not how we sentence offenders in Canada."
Bottos noted McKnight was a first-time offender with "excellent" prospects for rehabilitation.
He's also argued the 2016 Remand Centre beating should serve as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
McKnight required stitches and staples following the attack where he was punched to the ground and kicked multiple times in the head. He earlier told the court he fears for his safety while incarcerated.
The Crown has argued the beating should have no effect on the sentence, noting McKnight could've asked the guards for protection but didn't.
'DENOUNCE AND DETER'
In his earlier sentencing argument last week, Crown prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga said McKnight's moral responsibility is huge in what he described as drug-facilitated sex assaults.
He said the judge has a "unique opportunity to denounce and deter" what he called the vile abuse of the five women.
“These are gravely serious offences and Mr. McKnight's degree of moral responsibility is high,” said Huyser-Wierenga during in his opening submission.
“He's a man who has had a privileged upbringing in many ways.”
Huyser-Wierenga has also asserted the sex assaults were "drug-facilitated" noting one of the women only had one drink, which she testified was given to her by McKnight before she blacked out.
"She's come to and she's in Mr. McKnight's bed," the prosecutor said.
Bottos pushed back on that assertion last week saying there was limited evidence of drug use beyond alcohol.
“There is no merit to this argument and it was not proven by a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Alcohol was involved, Bottos said, but he argued it wasn't used by McKnight in a premeditated attempt to sexually assault the women.
Bottos suggested McKnight didn't get proper consent from the women.
“These five women were caught up in that lifestyle,” he said.
“You can call it reckless, you can call it irresponsible. That does not mean he was predatory, purposeful.”
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS
The court has heard McKnight met most of the women in bars and assaulted them at his apartment.
Four of McKnight's five victims have addressed the court with victim impact statements.
"You saw intoxication as an opportunity," one of the women told the court.
"My body didn’t feel like mine because I wasn’t in control," she said in her victim impact statement.
"I felt robbed, invaded, worthless and helpless."
The woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said she remained silent about the attacks for years until hearing of other victims and going to the police.
"I stand here against sexual predators," she said. "I stand here so he can never do this to anyone else."
She told the court she initially tried to forget about the assault, which she could barely remember after being plied with alcohol by McKnight.
“I could no longer walk, form sentences or see straight,” she said. “The very last thing I remember was being so intoxicated my vision blurred.”
She said she woke up naked in what appeared to be McKnight's bedroom and she quickly fled.
"Though justice has been served in my case, I don’t feel a sense of victory in winning because this process has been so dehumanizing."
Others told the court they still suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares due to the assaults.
"I want more than anything else in this world to be the person I was before that night," another woman told the court.
"To feel free within myself again instead of weighted down by these chains inside my mind and soul. That night, I lost a part of myself that I haven't ever been able to find again."
With files from the Canadian Press