Michael Hurst returns to court as lawyers argue sentencing in third sexual assault trial

Crown asks judge to send Palmerston man to prison for seven years on three counts of sexual assault; defence suggests four-year sentence

Caution: This story contains details some readers may find upsetting.

GUELPH – Michael Hurst kept his eyes downcast as he walked past women he sexually assaulted and their supporters in Guelph Superior Court on Jan. 19.

The Palmerston resident’s formerly clean-cut appearance had been abandoned since being locked up after sexual assault convictions late last year.

Escorted by officers with handcuffs removed, he entered an upper-level courtroom with slicked back hair and a thick, grey beard that placed him beyond his 46 years.

Women and supporters of the victims filled two benches in the gallery and spoke in whispers. They later cried together as smarting victim impact statements were read aloud in court.

‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’

In the fall of 2020, it came time for one woman to reopen old wounds.

She hadn’t told anyone sooner about what happened out of fear she would lose her best friend and confidant, Hurst’s wife.

“We literally grew up together,” the woman said, seated beside Crown prosecutor Mark Eshuis.

“I thought about the possibility of my daughter or anyone else coming to me with a similar story,” she explained, in part.

“How would I be able to live with myself knowing I could have done something to stop him sooner?”

The woman spoke of snide comments within the community; such as locals asking “‘why say something now?’” she said.

“I realize that my ‘why now’ is to stop you, because I don’t think you would have stopped,” she said, addressing Hurst, seated nearby beside his defence lawyer.

The woman said Hurst’s public image is one of a trustworthy hockey dad, who lended a hand and volunteered with the fire department.

“These proceedings have shown that is not an accurate representation,” she said. “What you are capable of doing is victimizing and violating the community’s trust.

“I can’t change the fact that it took so long for me to come forward,” she continued, “but I can certainly begin to heal knowing that you will not be able to hurt anyone else.”

She returned to sit with the other women, looked with eyes red and wet toward the judge, and sipped from a plastic cup of water.

Another referred to Hurst as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“So many women were hurt after you sexually assaulted me; I left them unwarned and unprotected by not coming forward immediately,” the woman wrote in her statement.

Eventually coming forward to “share the truth and try to help prevent this from happening to others” was the right choice, she wrote, despite a trial that was “beyond traumatizing.”

She wrote about the pain caused by people in the community talking about the charges, or “the latest news article about smut.”

“You made me a victim,” she wrote, adding she cannot sleep without a nightlight, “Like a toddler that’s scared of the dark.”

Now it had come time, she stated, for Hurst to “accept the punishment.”

“You no longer have any hold … the truth has set me free from you … my new life now, as a survivor, starts today,” she concluded.

The Advertiser is not reporting on many specific details heard in court about the sexual assaults, including the women’s names, because of a publication ban intended to protect their identities.

Given the chance to speak, Hurst rose and apologized to the women.

“Both victims were friends whose trust I betrayed,” he said through tears and an uneasy voice. “I’m truly sorry and remorseful.”

Hurst sat and wiped his eyes before pressing his reddened face into a tissue.

The two women testified in a jury trial last month that Hurst raped them more than a decade ago, in separate incidents, after they had consumed alcohol and fallen asleep.

A jury convicted Hurst, in what has been the most consequential of three total trials, on three counts of sexual assault, and acquitted him on a count of sexual assault and a count of an indecent act.

Penitentiary sentences sought

Crown and defence lawyers spent much of Friday arguing over the nuances of a case with some legal complexity.

It’s certain the jury convicted Hurst on two counts of sexual assault involving rape, but it’s not known whether the jury convicted him based on facts presented by the women or facts from Hurst’s defence.

There were vastly differing accounts when it came to consent in the events from 2003 and 2007.

Unlike in the U.S., such deliberations between jurors are privileged in the Canadian legal system — even judges are not privy.

Defence lawyer Mary Murphy suggested Hurst’s evidence was “more logical,” while the prosecutor urged the judge to side with the women’s evidence, arguing it was believable.

Whatever facts the judge rules on, the lawyers said their respective sentencing recommendations — seven years from the Crown and four from the defence — would not change.

“It’s obvious he will go to … [a] penitentiary,” Murphy said.

But she argued that a sentence beyond four years would be “crushing” when considering his other sentences from trials in 2022 and 2023.

Canadian law requires judges to impose consecutive sentences that aren’t “unduly long or harsh.”

Nine women sexually assaulted; 11 convictions in three trials

Hurst is currently serving a six-month jail sentence following an October trial in Superior Court. A jury convicted him of sexually assaulting two women between 2017 and 2020.

That trial followed one in December 2022, in which Hurst was found guilty of sexually assaulting two women and committing an indecent act in front of an additional three women between 2007 and 2015. He was handed two years less a day of house arrest.

Murphy argued, given the totality of all the sentences, that seven years being proposed by the prosecution would bring all of his sentences collectively “well out of the appropriate range” to nearly 10 years.

“That is a very lengthy period of time to be under scrutiny,” she said, in part.

On the same point, Eshuis countered that all of the offences Hurst has been convicted of — eight counts of sexual assault and three counts of an indecent act — should be totally considered.

Including this third and most recent trial, Hurst has been found guilty of committing criminal, sexual offences against nine women.

The prosecutor contended seven years is “not way too high” and “in the range.”

The maximum sentence for sexual assault involving adults ranges up to a decade, though maximums are rarely imposed. There is no mandatory minimum sentence.

Justice Lemon is expected to return a sentencing decision on Jan. 29.