MONTREAL — A Quebec judge handed down a harsh sentence on Wednesday for former sports journalist Jonah Keri, sentencing the famous baseball journalist to 21 months in prison for repeated abuse of his ex-wife.
Quebec Court Judge Alexandre Dalmau’s sentence at the Montreal courthouse was considerably higher than that sought by the Crown, which was at least a year in prison.
“In these circumstances, the only bravery worth highlighting is that of the victim,” Dalmau said, reading from his 16-page decision. “She was brave enough to report the relentless abuse she suffered despite the immense pressure placed on her to keep quiet.”
He noted that the biggest source of this pressure came from Keri, who, in addition to physically abusing her, threatened her with violence if she spoke.
Keri, 47, had no criminal record and pleaded guilty last August to seven counts including assault, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, harassment and uttering threats against her ex-wife and a young child whose identity is covered by a publication ban.
The sentences handed down on Wednesday totaled 18 months and three months, involving two separate cases, to be served consecutively.
An agreed statement of facts describes 14 incidents over a seven-month period between July 2018 and January 2019, in which the former spouse was pregnant.
The court heard the victim was punched in the knees, punched in the head, pushed, dragged, slapped, bitten and spat at. In one instance, he headbutted her, fracturing her nose in the process. Once, Keri threatened to throw her off a balcony. He grabbed a knife in another incident and threatened to pull the unborn child from her womb.
Dalmau wrote that although the physical attacks left no permanent damage, the psychological damage was significant.
“The court believes her,” Dalmau wrote. “It is undeniable that the process of healing from such psychological wounds is long and difficult. In cases like this, it is much more difficult for the mind to heal than for the body.”
Prosecutor Bruno Menard told reporters on Wednesday that the court’s message to victims was to speak up. As for the prison sentence, Menard noted that this is the most severe sentence a court can impose when all other options are deemed inappropriate.
“Sending someone who is free to go to prison after events like this for a period of 21 months, which in my head is a significant period for someone who has never been in prison before, I think that’s the kind of sentence that sends the appropriate message,” Ménard said.
In his judgment, Dalmau noted that many people had written letters of reference on Keri’s behalf expressing their disbelief that he could have committed the acts.
Dalmau said these letters led him to “disturbing observations”. He said Keri was able to construct a very different picture of reality and he wondered if the victim would have been believed if she had not carefully documented the incidents.
“Finally, this statement is also a perfect illustration of the insidious nature of domestic violence: it is a drama experienced in private by women from all walks of life and unfortunately too little reported.”
Before his arrest in July 2019 ended his career, Keri was a well-known sportswriter in North America who was published on various platforms including Sportsnet and The Athletic. He has also appeared as a radio and television analyst. The court heard he made $250,000 a year.
He was best known for his writing on baseball and for his 2014 book on the history of the Montreal Expos.
The defense had asked for a sentence that did not include a prison sentence. At sentencing, Keri testified that he was deeply sorry and that he had taken intensive courses in therapy and anger management.
Dalmau said he would have given a sentence of more than two years had it not been for Keri’s guilty plea, remorse, acknowledgment of the crime and her decision to seek help. But the defendant’s efforts were not enough to warrant a non-custodial sentence, the judge said.
“The seriousness of the acts committed by the offender is too great,” Dalmau said. “There are too many aggravating circumstances. This is not an isolated act. This is a case of repeated violence against a pregnant wife.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Boro said his client was disappointed with the sentence but knew what he had done was wrong.
“It’s a sad story with a sad ending; there are no winners in these types of cases,” Boro said. “The victim, as you heard, was traumatized. The defendant lost the life he knew, which was quite exciting, lucrative. He was on top of the heap and he is no longer there; he is in prison.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 23, 2022.