Dressed in a grey track suit, Donnie Snook stood in provincial court where he entered guilty pleas to 46 charges including sexual assault and possessing, distributing and making child pornography, prompting a collective gasp from a few dozen spectators.
Dennis Boyle, Snook's lawyer, said his client is feeling a measure of relief and ready to be sentenced.
"He is in a good state of mind," Boyle said outside court. "He is probably somewhat relieved now that this matter has taken its first step towards correction, towards rehabilitation, towards healing, perhaps forgiveness."
Snook, 41, was arrested in January by the RCMP after an investigation that began in 2011 involving the Saint John and Toronto police. Investigators seized computer equipment and images after carrying out a search warrant at his east end home.
The RCMP said the crimes began in January 2001 until Snook's arrest and involved 17 boys, most of whom were from the Saint John area and between the ages of five and 15 at the time of the offences.
Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock said the case was unprecedented in her experience.
"I've personally not dealt with a case involving this magnitude and number of victims," she said outside court. "In any situation where there is a guilty plea, it alleviates a lot of questions for everyone."
Darrell Bastarache, a former friend of Snook's who said his children knew the once respected public figure through his work at a local youth ministry, said he hopes justice is served.
"I hope the wheels of justice turn smoothly and he gets what he deserves," Bastarache said. "Basically, they just want it over with, (the) parents and children."
Snook's case attracted intense public interest in the port city of 70,000.
He was elected to city council in 2008 and was involved in community organizations including the Inner City Youth Ministry, which provides sports programs, mentoring and lunches at three schools. He was executive director of the youth ministry for 14 years.
The ministry runs programs such as the Chicken Noodle Club, which provides about 60,000 hot lunches to children annually. It operates out of Trinity Anglican Church in Saint John and is supported by the diocese of Fredericton.
Snook will return to court June 25 to set a date for sentencing.
"That's when the facts will be given, so that's going to be a long day," said Boyle. "It will be a very long and trying and hurtful day with a lot of pain and suffering exposed before the court."