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Former sports reporter Jonah Keri sentenced to 21 months for abusing pregnant ex-wife

MONTREAL — A Quebec judge came down with a tough sentence on Wednesday for former sports writer Jonah Keri, sentencing the once-celebrated baseball journalist to 21 months in jail for repeated abuse against his ex-wife.
Former journalist Jonah Keri arrives for his sentencing on assault charges at the courthouse, Wednesday, March 23, 2022 in Montreal. The ex-sportswriter has been sentenced to 21 months for repeated abuse against his former spouse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — A Quebec judge came down with a tough sentence on Wednesday for former sports writer Jonah Keri, sentencing the once-celebrated baseball journalist to 21 months in jail for repeated abuse against his ex-wife.

Quebec court Judge Alexandre Dalmau's sentence delivered at the Montreal courthouse was considerably higher than the one sought by the Crown, which was for a minimum of one year in jail. 

"In the circumstances, the only courage worth highlighting is the victim's," Dalmau said, reading from his 16-page ruling. "She had the courage to report the incessant violence she suffered despite the immense pressure on her to remain quiet."

He noted the greatest source of that pressure came from Keri, who other than abusing her physically, threatened violence against her if she spoke out.

Keri, 47, had no previous record and pleaded guilty last August to seven charges including assault, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, harassment and uttering threats against his ex-wife and a young child whose identity is covered by a publication ban.

The sentences doled out Wednesday added up to 18 months and three months, involving two separate cases, to be served consecutively.

An agreed statement of facts described 14 incidents over a seven-month period between July 2018 and January 2019, during which the ex-spouse was pregnant.

The court heard the victim was punched in the knees, hit on her head, pushed, dragged, slapped, bit and spat at. In one instance, he head-butted her, fracturing her nose in the process. One time, Keri threatened to throw her from a balcony. He grabbed a knife during a separate incident and threatened to remove the unborn child from her womb.

Dalmau wrote that while the physical attacks did not leave permanent damage, the psychological damage was significant. 

"The court believes her," Dalmau wrote. "It is undeniable that the process of healing from such psychological injuries is long and difficult. In cases like this, it is much harder for the mind to heal than the body."

Prosecutor Bruno Menard told reporters Wednesday the court's message to victims is to speak out. As for the jail term, Menard noted it's the most serious sentence a court can impose when all other options are deemed not appropriate.

"Sending someone who is free to go to jail after events like that for a period of 21 months, which in my head is a significant period for someone who has never been to jail before, I think it is the kind of sentence that sends the appropriate message," Menard said. 

In his judgment, Dalmau noted that many people had written letters of reference on behalf of Keri expressing disbelief that he could have committed the acts.

Dalmau said those letters brought him to "troubling observations." He said Keri was able to construct an image very different from 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 conjugal violence: it is a tragedy experienced in private by women from all walks of life that is unfortunately all too infrequently reported."

Before his July 2019 arrest ended his career, Keri was a well-known sports writer in North America who was published on a variety of platforms including Sportsnet and The Athletic. He also appeared as an analyst on radio and television. The court heard he earned $250,000 yearly.

He was best known for writing on baseball and for his 2014 book on the history of the Montreal Expos. 

The defence had called for a sentence that didn't include jail time. At sentencing, Keri testified he was deeply sorry and that he had undergone intensive therapy and anger management courses.

Dalmau said he would have given a sentence exceeding two years if not for Keri's guilty plea, remorse, acknowledgment of the crime and for his decision to seek help. But the accused's efforts weren't enough to warrant a non-custodial sentence, the judge said.

"The seriousness of the acts committed by the offender is too significant," Dalmau said. "The aggravating circumstances are too numerous. It was not an isolated act. This is a case of repeated acts of violence against a pregnant spouse."

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Boro said his client was disappointed with the sentence but knew what he did 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, has been traumatized. The accused has lost the life that he knew, which was quite exciting, lucrative. He was on top of the heap and he’s no longer there; he’s in jail.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press