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Matthew McKnight walks out of court during a break in Edmonton on July 8, 2020.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

An Edmonton defence lawyer says former bar promoter Matthew McKnight should receive between five and nine years in prison for five sexual assaults against young women in the city’s bar scene between 2010 and 2016.

The Crown is seeking 22.5 years, which defence lawyer Dino Bottos dismissed on Friday as inappropriately high, and which he said showed the prosecutors had “lost perspective” on the case, trying to appease the public and “quench their thirst for blood.”

Mr. McKnight, now 33, went to trial last October on 13 counts of sexual assault involving 13 women, and was convicted by a jury in January on five of the charges, and found not guilty on the other eight. The hearing has spanned four days and will continue on July 23, with Justice Doreen Sulyma sentencing Mr. McKnight at some point after that.

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Mr. McKnight is expected to address the court again before his sentencing.

The gap between the two proposed sentences – which Mr. Bottos acknowledged is the largest in any case he has been involved with – reflects the two sides’ vastly differing views of the case, and of Mr. McKnight as an offender.

In the Crown’s view, Mr. McKnight is a serial sexual predator who plied young women with alcohol and, in some cases, a “date-rape drug” to incapacitate and then violate them.

To the defence, Mr. McKnight was merely a promiscuous man who used alcohol as part of his work and had sex with a lot of women, some of whom later made allegations against him. Mr. Bottos described the five sexual assaults as “not a pattern, but a collection of five random encounters” in which Mr. McKnight “simply went too far.”

The trial, which lasted 63 days and included 37 witnesses, largely came down to the testimony of the women against that of Mr. McKnight and a group of his friends, who maintained the sexual contact was consensual. Mr. McKnight testified that the women were mistaken or lying.

All but two of the assaults were alleged to have occurred at Mr. McKnight’s downtown Edmonton condo, a short walk away from the country-themed bar Knoxville’s, where he worked and partied.

The youngest of the women was 17 at the time, the oldest 22.

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During the trial, the women recounted experiencing long periods of dense blackout, in some cases waking in the midst of unwanted sexual activity with Mr. McKnight, feeling sick, confused and terrified, sometimes unable to move or call for help.

Testifying in his own defence, Mr. McKnight described in great detail each woman and each night, down to the crack of a bottle opening, or touching a woman’s hand.

The charges were decided by a jury, and because jury deliberations are secret, it’s not clear on what facts Mr. McKnight was convicted, nor what level of intent and deliberation the jurors found in his actions.

Mr. Bottos argued the guilty verdicts don’t mean the jury accepted everything the women said, and that if the jurors thought Mr. McKnight drugged his victims, they likely would have returned guilty verdicts in the other cases, “and the other women would have been believed.”

It will be up to Justice Sulyma to decide whether aggravating factors, like drugging, were present.

Mr. McKnight has no previous criminal record, and Mr. Bottos says letters that will be presented as part of the sentencing describe his “maturation, regret and self-improvement.” Mr. Bottos said impact statements in which four of the five victims and several of their relatives spoke about how the assaults devastated their lives were “difficult to hear,” but in some cases more of a “public dressing down” that should not be given too much weight by the court.

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Mr. McKnight had at one point faced 26 charges of sexual and physical assault against 21 women, but some did not proceed. Two additional cases slated for trial were stayed after the women decided they did not want to testify.

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