Former Edmonton nightclub employee sentenced to 8 years for sex assaults

A former Edmonton nightclub employee convicted of sexually assaulting five women was sentenced to eight years in prison on Friday afternoon. 

Prosecution had asked for a sentence of 22 1/2 years in prison

Matthew 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. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

An Edmonton courtroom erupted in fury and chaos Friday afternoon as a former Edmonton nightclub promoter convicted of sexually assaulting five women was sentenced to eight years in prison. 

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

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma provided detailed reasons for her sentencing decisions on each of the five counts. She did not find believe that McKnight, 33, had drugged any of his victims. In three of the five sexual assaults, she found that no use of a condom was an aggravating factor.

One of the victims showed bruising after the sexual assault and Sulyma added time, noting "it reflects a violence in the exchange." 

In total, she assessed 16.5 years for the five sexual assault convictions, but concluded that number was far too high, especially for a first-time offender. 

"A sentence of 16.5 years simply exceeds what would be just and appropriate," she said Friday, as she reduced the sentence by approximately 40 per cent to 10 years.

Judge lowers sentence further

A large portion of the seven-day sentencing hearing was devoted to the assault McKnight suffered at the hands of another prisoner at the Edmonton Remand Centre while he was briefly in custody in October 2016. 

"The attack in the remand centre was visibly vicious," Sulyma said. 

She likened the response by correctional officers who rushed into the room where McKnight had been assaulted as "similar but worse to rubberneckers on the highway during an accident." 

Sulyma described the officers as almost gang-like and suggested there was a cover-up when the officers tried to justify their actions in handcuffing McKnight. 

The judge lowered the sentence by one year due to the assault. 

Finally, Sulyma noted McKnight has spent the past four years free on bail without any problems. 

"I am persuaded he has excellent chances to rehabilitate," Sulyma said as she lowered his sentence one last time to eight years. 

At that point, the courtroom erupted. 

'How dare you'

Six of McKnight's accusers held hands and walked in front of the gallery in a show of protest over the sentence. Some wore red and black masks emblazoned with a hand print. 

One woman ran toward the defence table and pushed a monitor to the floor.  

Another yelled out, "Are you crazy? Get me out of here!"

Several members in the gallery began hurling accusations and expletives at the judge.

Sheriffs surrounded McKnight in the prisoners box while Sulyma briefly left the courtroom. 

"How dare you," one woman said as she was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs. 

Outside court, one of the complainants — whose identity is protected under a publication ban — expressed her disappointment with the sentence. McKnight was acquitted of sexually assaulting her when she was 17.

A woman who accused Matthew McKnight of sexually assaulting her speaks about the sentence outside court, accompanied by her sister. (Craig Ryan/CBC )

"I just had higher expectations and then hearing that eight years and hearing it go lower and lower just made things worse," she said. "It was just disgusting how she looked at these five cases like they're individual cases." 

The woman's sister was in court for support. She was equally upset about the sentence imposed. 

"I felt like she really sympathized with him," she said. "For her to say that he's not a serial predator? That's absolutely false." 

'You don't sentence to appease the masses' 

Outside court, defence lawyer Dino Bottos said he feels "very good" about the sentence, which landed within the five to nine year range he had proposed to the court.   

"Justice Sulyma applied the law to the letter," Bottos said. "To the letter means that you apply it principally. You don't sentence to appease the masses and the bloodthirsty. The masses and the bloodthirsty will never be satisfied."

Bottos criticized the lengthy sentence proposed by the Crown. 

"The Crown asking for 22 and a half years created false expectations for victims and complainants that this guy was going to go away for over 20 years," Bottos said. "The more extreme your submissions in court, the less likely you have credibility with the court."

Defence lawyer Dino Bottos said outside court he feels "very good" about the eight-year sentence. (Craig Ryan/CBC )

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga said that McKnight used each of his victims "as an object for his own sexual pleasure" and deserved a harsh sanction.

He has 30 days to decide if the sentence would be appealed and indicated it's likely he will make that recommendation. 

While speaking to the media, Huyser-Wierenga posed a rhetorical question. 

"Is this sentence of eight years for somebody who's appropriately, legally classified as a serial rapist, is that adequate?"

McKnight was immediately taken into custody. He may be eligible to apply for release in two and a half years after serving one-third of his sentence. 

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston