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Crown gives notice of appeal in high-profile sexual assault case in Edmonton

EDMONTON — The Alberta Crown has given notice that it wants to appeal the sentence given to a former Edmonton nightclub employee convicted of sexually assaulting five women.

Matthew McKnight, 33, was sentenced last month to eight years in prison — a term reduced partly because of a beating he suffered while in custody.

The notice was filed Thursday in the Alberta Court of Appeal.

If the appeal is approved, prosecutors will challenge the sentence on several grounds, including that it is not proportionate to the moral gravity of the offences and “demonstrably unfit,” the notice said.

McKnight was accused of sexually assaulting 13 women ranging in age from 17 to 22 between 2010 and 2016. He pleaded not guilty, but a jury convicted him on five counts.

Crown prosecutors had asked for a total sentence of 22 1/2 years, while McKnight’s lawyer had suggested five to nine years.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma assessed 16 1/2 years for the five counts — a number she reduced to eight years based on McKnight’s “moral blameworthiness” and his “excellent chances to rehabilitate.” She also took into account that he was attacked by an inmate while at the Edmonton Remand Centre awaiting bail.

“A sentence of 16 1/2 years simply exceeds what would be just and appropriate,” she said in her decision.

The reduced sentence caused outbursts in the courtroom with one woman yelling, “You guys are monsters.”

Court had heard that McKnight met most of the women in bars and assaulted them at his apartment. Several victims told court that they have had nightmares, thoughts of suicide and anxiety since they were attacked.

The victims’ names are protected by a publication ban.

Dino Bottos, who represents McKnight, said in a text message that the notice of appeal is “disappointing but not surprising given the era.”

He said he’s concerned the Crown may be giving in to a segment of the public looking for unmitigated vengeance.

“A senior and highly respected jurist imposed a fit and proper sentence on Mr. McKnight,” said Bottos. “Justice Sulyma showed not only wisdom and restraint, but courage in doing so.”

He said he’ll be ready if there’s an appeal.

The Crown prosecution service also said in its notice of appeal that the judge erred in her application of the totality principle and overemphasized mitigating factors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2020

The Canadian Press

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