Michael Hurst sentenced to 4.5 years in third sexual assault trial

Palmerston resident previously sentenced to house arrest, six months in jail for sexual assaults against seven women

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

GUELPH – Final sentences have been delivered following a slew of charges laid in 2021 stemming from sexual crimes committed by Palmerston resident Michael Hurst between 2003 and 2020.

A total of 20 alleged sexual offences — all of which Hurst pleaded not guilty to — were broken into three distinct trials in 2022 and 2023.

In the latest and most consequential of the three trials, a Guelph jury convicted Hurst on three counts of sexual assault, and acquitted him on another count of sexual assault and a count of an indecent act.

Two women testified last year that Hurst raped them more than a decade ago, in separate incidents in 2003 and 2005, after they had consumed alcohol and fallen asleep.

The Advertiser cannot identify any of the women involved because of publication bans, standard in sexual assault cases.

Crown prosecutor Mark Eshuis argued in January for a sentence of seven years, and Hurst’s defence lawyer Mary Murphy argued for four years.

On Feb. 14, Superior Court Justice Gordon Lemon handed the 46-year-old a total of 4.5 years behind bars – four years for raping two women (two years each), and six months for a sexual assault committed against one of the women.

That means he’ll soon be taken to a federal penitentiary, where the sentences will be served consecutively, and in addition to three remaining months of a six-month jail sentence he is currently serving for other sexual assaults, for a total of 57 months.

It was too early on Feb. 15 for Correctional Service Canada (CSC), which will eventually have custody of Hurst, to provide details about his parole eligibility and statutory release dates.

According to Public Safety Canada, most federal inmates serving a sentence like Hurst’s can apply for day-time release six months before full parole eligibility kicks in, which is a third-way through a sentence.

The Parole Board of Canada determines whether offenders are granted parole privileges.

Two-thirds through a sentence, Canadian law generally entitles offenders to be released from prison back in the community to serve the remaining third of their sentence under supervision.

CSC spokesperson Kerry Gatien told the Advertiser someone in the province’s custody may take up to 15 days before transferring to federal custody.

Privacy laws prevent Gatien from sharing the actual date of Hurst’s transfer to a federal facility.

Once his federal sentence is over, Hurst will resume serving a two-year-less-a-day house arrest sentence from the first of the three trials, to be followed by three years of probation.

The Advertiser has reported extensively on each of Hurst’s trials over the past year, and the court gallery on Feb. 14 had the most in attendance, with rows filled by Hurst’s victims, their supporters and family members.

Some talked about whether they had slept well the night before (they had), and about a shared anxiety born of their imagined future when Hurst is released.

The women remained standing after the judge left; some followed Hurst with a collective gaze, the distance between them growing as he was escorted away. Others averted their eyes.

Some women hugged in the courtroom and beyond its wooden doors.

One said she had to bite her tongue so hard it nearly bled as the judge read his sentencing decision aloud; a man said someone like Hurst should never be free.

Though neither woman involved in the latest trial wished to speak with reporters on record, the mix of whispers and murmurs in the courtroom conveyed disappointment and indignation about the sentence.

And yet, there was also a sense of relief felt by some, knowing where their abuser would be, at least for now.

The judge determined Hurst raped the women, but said “after much consideration” he could not find beyond a reasonable doubt they were unconscious at the time.

Though the remaining sexual assault was criminal, Lemon said it was “at the less serious end” of the spectrum, and added he did not find case law justifying even a one-year sentence.

Lemon said Hurst had an “exemplary” pre-sentence report, and remains close with his wife, parents and siblings. Only a brother was present behind Hurst on the other side of the courtroom.

Hurst also gave an “emotional and apparently sincere apology” to the women in January, the judge said, adding it was a “late show of remorse.”

The judge said he had a diminished hope for Hurst’s rehabilitation, considering the many years he spent sexually abusing women.

“I wish you well,” he told Hurst.

Prosecutor Eshuis told reporters he hopes the assaults and trial won’t become a defining moment of the women’s lives.

“I hope that this provides some form of closure,” he said.

In an emailed statement to reporters, defence lawyer Murphy wrote: “Sentencing is a difficult exercise. Justice Lemon took the time to evaluate and balance the relevant principles and precedents.

“His decision was balanced and fair; I think he did a good job of addressing the competing interests.”

In total, Hurst has been convicted of 11 criminal sexual offences against nine women, between 2003 and 2020.