Palmerston man sentenced to house arrest for sexual assaults, indecent acts

Michael Hurst sentenced to two years of house arrest followed by three years of probation

GUELPH – Crown attorney Peter Keen stretched his hands at his sides, flexing his fingers, before he launched into an impassioned plea to send 45-year-old Palmerston resident Michael Hurst to prison.

The prosecutor reminded Judge Matthew Stanley that Hurst was being sentenced for two sexual assaults and three indecent acts.

As Keen spoke in Guelph court on April 13, sighing heavily at times, Hurst was seen writing on a piece of paper and consulting with Mary Murphy, a Toronto-based defence lawyer.

Murphy had earlier told the court that Hurst never went beyond touching the victims or masturbating in front of them.

Though she admitted the offences were “egregious” and “offensive,” Murphy said they didn’t justify sending Hurst to prison, and advocated for any sentence handed down to be served within the community.

House arrest, as was being suggested by Murphy for the harshest sentence, would send the wrong message to the community, Keen said.

“I can’t imagine a worse sentence,” he remarked, suggesting it would justify Hurst’s behaviour, and allow him to carry on with his life at home.

The prosecutor advocated instead for publicly denouncing Hurst’s offences by sending a harsh message.

Only a “real jail sentence” would be appropriate, Keen asserted.

“If you’re a serial sexual offender, that’s where you should go,” he said.

Judge Stanley didn’t fully agree with that sentiment, according to his remarks given before he sentenced Hurst in Guelph court on May 31.

“Being of the opinion that incarceration is required, I must also exercise the principal of restraint,” Stanley told the court.

This past January, Stanley found Hurst guilty on multiple charges following a trial last year, but the judge reasoned Hurst is a first-time offender with a history of “pro-social behaviour.”

“I must balance this with the need to deter someone who [has] committed two sexual assaults on vulnerable victims, and three counts of an indecent act,” Stanley said.

‘I never saw it coming’

Reading from a victim impact statement in April, one of the women who Hurst was found guilty of sexually assaulting told the court Hurst invited himself into bed with her after a night when there had been drinking. His wife was in another room.

Hurst was described a being a “handsy person” who offered hugs and physical touches.

The woman recalled feeling guilt about what had happened; she buried the assault, not wanting to ruin a related friendship.

Fourteen years later, the woman relived the experience through a “different lens” while discussing what she had experienced, then realizing she had been sexually assaulted.

As she continued reading her statement aloud, tears were shed by people gathered in the body of the court.

“I am not the same person I was,” she said.

Another woman began crying before taking her seat at the front of the court to read her statement aloud. She turned from watching eyes to steel herself.

The woman described “feelings of hurt” and nightmares lasting over a decade.

“I never saw it coming that night,” she said, later adding, “I hope the nightmares will stop.”

Hurst pleaded not guilty to 10 total charges and his trial took place last year from Dec. 5 to 9.

He was found guilty of sexually assaulting two women, and committing an indecent act in front of an additional three women, between 2007 and 2015.

Hurst was also acquitted of five charges of sexual assault against four women.

The Advertiser is not identifying any of the women affected because of a court-ordered publication ban.

Hurst speaks

Given the opportunity to stand and address the court in April, Hurst, a married man and father, said he is “sincerely sorry.”

Grateful for the support of family and friends, Hurst asserted the convictions did not define him.

He added he wouldn’t be dwelling on the past, but focusing on the future with no ill will held toward his victims.

“I’m deeply remorseful for my actions,” he said, his voice cracking.

As he apologized to his family, he began crying, reaching for tissues.

Families and friendships ‘shattered’

At the May 31 sentencing, Stanley said the “damage and trauma” felt by the women is “real and profound.”

He said the impact, not only on them, but their families too, is “significant” and the effects have been “devastating.”

Families and friendships have been “shattered,” and a community relying on its members for support was divided, Stanley said.

“Whatever my sentence is today, those pieces will remain broken.”

The judge considered several aggravating and mitigating factors in his ruling.

The women were vulnerable, suffered “serious psychological injury,” and there were multiple victims over several years; indicative of the behaviour of a “serial sex offender,” Stanley noted.

Had there been additional sexual assaults, and had they been more depraved, the judge said his analysis and sentencing would be “decidedly different.”

The judge also noted Hurst had no criminal record, that he was a contributing member of the community through volunteer roles with youth sports and more than two decades as a volunteer firefighter.

Stanley added Hurst has a strong employment background, a supportive family, and has been in counselling since 2020 to address his sexual and aggressive behaviour.

‘Shadow of minimization’

“I accept that Mr. Hurst is somewhat remorseful,” the judge said.

“However, this was a trial and not a guilty plea,” he added, saying the women had to relive their experiences throughout.

A “shadow of minimization” remains around Hurst’s remorse, the judge said.

“It must be clear that the only person responsible for the damage is [Hurst].”

The women gathered in the court anticipated their abuser would be put behind bars as the judge told Hurst to stand and receive his sentence.

“I have found you guilty and I am imposing a two-year conditional sentence,” Stanley announced.

The prison sentence for sexual assault ranges up to a decade, and up to two years for an indecent act — though maximum penalties are rarely imposed.

The judge admitted that what equates to house arrest in response to sexual assault is “perhaps somewhat unusual” but not “unprecedented.”

“Conditional sentences are jail sentences served in the community,” Stanley said.

The judge noted past case law indicated penitentiary sentences were imposed when “more graphic behaviour” was involved.

“I am of the view that Mr. Hurst may be appropriately sentenced to serve a conditional sentence of imprisonment in the community,” he said.

For the first 20 months of the sentence, Hurst cannot leave his home unless attending work, church, appointments, counselling, or on Sundays between 9am and 1pm for necessities such as banking or grocery shopping.

During the final four months of the 24-month sentence, he must be home between 8pm and 6am.

Recovery Science Corporation will monitor his location with electronic GPS monitoring for the entirety of his house arrest.

According to that company’s website, “GPS monitoring cannot prevent non-compliance or ensure a police intervention in time to prevent non-compliance.”

The website states monitoring is a “likely deterrent” and provides “objective detection of non-compliant behaviour.”

Hurst cannot contact or be near any of the women, must submit his DNA, be a on sex offender registry for 20 years, and cannot possess any weapons for five years.

After the house arrest term is complete, Hurst is then on probation for three years.

Victims decry sentence

Reached by phone on June 1, Keen said anything he had to say was aired in court.

“I don’t have anything further to add to that,” he said.

Also reached by phone on June 1, Murphy declined when asked if she wished to provide comment saying, “no, not really.”

On June 2, a woman who cannot be identified under the court-ordered publication ban told a reporter the victims believed Hurst was at least going to serve time in prison – and not at his home, where the assaults took place.

Though the woman felt grateful for being believed, she said the resulting sentence – especially after having to relive the “trauma and fear” throughout the judicial process – “blows my mind.”

The woman also voiced concern about what the sentence says to victims of sexual assault and abuse.

In a 700-word statement sent to a reporter on behalf of all the victims, the women said the trial was difficult and resulted in “consequences that are very real and affected the way that all of us have been living our lives.”

“As victims, it wasn’t until the trial that we gained an understanding of the details of each woman’s experience,” the statement read.

The statement referred to the sentence as “insufficient” and “pathetic.”

“To say that the sentence is a disappointment would be an overwhelming understatement,” it read.

“Imprisonment would suggest inconvenience, difficulty, penalty … None of these factors feel accurately represented in this sentence.”