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Former Yellowknife gymnastics coach pleads guilty to luring athlete

A former Yellowknife gymnastics coach has pleaded guilty to sending messages and photos to one of the girls he was coaching in an attempt to lure her into sending explicit photos of herself.

'You took away my ability to trust other people,' says victim

Ricky Lee Sutherland at a 2017 fastball tournament in Hay River, N.W.T. Sutherland, a former gymnastics coach, pleaded guilty Tuesday to sending messages and photos to one of the girls he was coaching in an attempt to lure her into sending explicit photos of herself. (Yellowknife Fastball League)

A former Yellowknife gymnastics coach has pleaded guilty to sending messages and photos to one of the girls he was coaching in an attempt to lure her into sending him explicit photos of herself.

Ricky Lee Sutherland, 50, entered the plea in a Yellowknife courtroom Monday morning, just before his trial was to begin.

According to a statement of agreed facts that was read out following the plea, Sutherland was hired as a coach by the Yellowknife Gymnastics Club in July 2016 after leaving his job as a municipal enforcement officer with the city. He had been working for the club on a volunteer basis before getting the paying job.

That fall, the club advised all of its employees that they were not to be friends with the athletes on social media.

Sutherland admitted that, while at a coaching conference in Toronto in February 2017, he sent photos through Snapchat to a girl under the age of 18. In at least one, the top of his penis was visible, according to the statement of agreed facts.

Though Snapchat messages only appear briefly on the phones of recipients, the victim took photos of some of them with her iPad.

Confronted by the gymnastic club's board of directors on his return, Sutherland admitted he had sent the photos and was fired. He said he was intoxicated at the time he sent the photos and apologized to the girl.

I blame myself constantly for trusting you.- Victim impact statement

Sutherland admitted in court he had communicated with the same girl in late 2016 and 2017 through Snapchat, texts and Instagram.

In a victim impact statement the prosecutor read out in court, the girl said Sutherland used to be one of her best friends.

"He taught me to believe in myself, not only in gymnastics but in life itself," she wrote.

Sutherland sat next to his lawyer as the statement was read, staring down at his clasped hands resting on the table.

She said the betrayal still haunts her and that she is receiving counselling to deal with the emotional aftermath.

"I blame myself constantly for trusting you," she wrote. "You took away my ability to trust other people."

The victim said Sutherland "had a chance to be a man and admit [his] faults," but instead insisted on having a preliminary inquiry, forcing her to testify.

Challenging mandatory minimum

Sutherland, who now lives in Ontario, is challenging the mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail. The maximum is 14 years. That argument is scheduled to be heard in July.

Sutherland's trial had been scheduled to run until Friday. According to the prosecutor, the victim and her parents were scheduled to fly out of Yellowknife on the same Saturday flight as Sutherland. He cannot afford to change his flight to an earlier date, his lawyer said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the prosecutor notified media that Sutherland has since been booked on an earlier flight.

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