Former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to serve 40 years to 175 years in state prison Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of a week-long trial. More than 150 survivors of sexual assault delivered statements over the course of the week, testifying to the molestation and abuse they suffered at the hands of Nassar under the guise of medical treatment over the past 30 years.
Upon Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s verdict, survivors shed tears in the audience. Aquilina was defiant.
“You played on everyone’s vulnerabilities,” she said. “I am not vulnerable.”
Nassar will serve his state sentence after his 60-year federal sentence on charges of child pornography handed down in December, Nassar, 54, for a minimum total of 100 years. Nassar also faces a sentence next week in Eaton County on three charges of criminal sexual assault due to treatments he administered at the Twistars gymnastics clinic in Dimondale, Michigan.
Nassar, a University of Michigan alum, pled guilty to the criminal charges of first-degree sexual conduct last November — the maximum sentence on his plea deal was 40 years. Testifying in Ingham County Circuit Court this week, survivors revealed more than three decades of sexual abuse, some of them only six years old when they began seeing Nassar.
Rachael Denhollander was the first survivor to go public, contacting a reporter from IndyStar after the publication of their investigation into the abuse in US Gymnastics in September 2016. Her allegations began a new wave of reports and lawsuits. Denhollander delivered the final victim impact statement Wednesday to tears and applause from the survivors and their families assembled in the courtroom.
“How much is a little girl worth? How much is a young woman worth?” she asked Nassar and the court. “Every woman who stood up here, truly loved you as an innocent child. Really truly loved you. And it did not satisfy you,” Denhollander said. “And that’s a joy you’ve cut yourself off from ever experiencing. And I pity you for it.”
“And this is what it looks like when people in authority choose not to listen, put friendships over the truth, and refuse to hold enablers accountable,” she continued. “(We) are fighting because no one else would do it.”
Aquilina showered the hundreds of survivors who stood before the court with affirmation. She called Denhollander “the bravest person I’ve ever had in my courtroom.”
Before delivering her sentence, Aquilina addressed the survivors one last time, reminding them they are no longer victims, calling on them and anyone watching to continue to fight for change.
“Speak out like these survivors,” she said. “Become part of the army.”
Following public pressure placed on the NCAA for a more comprehensive response to this abuse, members of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors tendered their resignations Sunday, including Chairman Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley.
Tuesday evening, MSU’s athletic department received notice of an investigation opened by the NCAA into the assaults “Nassar perpetrated against girls and young women, including some student-athletes at Michigan State.”
MSU trustee Joel Ferguson shrugged at the idea of the NCAA investigating MSU in a Lansing radio interview Tuesday afternoon. Ferguson also said the trustees had “more to worry about” than the Nassar case.
“This is not Penn State,” he said, referring to the school’s sex abuse controversy with ex-football coach Jerry Sandusky several years ago. “They were dealing with their football program. … They’re smart enough to know they’re not competent to walk in here on this.”
MSU’s athletic director released a statement Wednesday annoucing his department will cooperate with the investigation.
Both MSU — where Nassar worked as a gymnastics team coach and medical school faculty member for more than 20 years — and USA Gymnastics came under fire for enabling Nassar’s crimes. Though Nassar remained employed at MSU until early 2017, a Detroit News investigation released last week found more than a dozen MSU officials had been made aware of survivors’ reports in the last five years. Complaints were made as early as 1997, when then-high school student Larissa Boyce reported Nassar’s assault to Kathie Klages, the women’s gymnastics coach at MSU. In an interview with the Detroit News, Boyce told the Detroit News Klages told her she must have been misunderstanding what happened, and discouraged her from filing an official report.
Delivering one of the final victim impact statements before the sentencing on Wednesday, Kaylee Lorincz directly implored Nassar to tell the court who knew of his abuse, mentioning MSU president Lou Anna Simon. In 2014, Simon was informed of a Title IX complaint and police report filed against Nassar, though she claimed it was reported to her as an “unnamed physician.”
“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” she said outside the courtroom following victims’ impact statements on January 17. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”
Lorincz asked Nassar use his time to speak before sentencing to provide the survivors with answers.
“Did Lou Anna Simon know? And lastly, did John Geddert know you were stealing the innocence of little girls in the backroom of his gym?”
In addition to the university’s mishandling of the reports of abuse, survivors have also criticized the administration’s behavior throughout the duration of the case and sentencing hearing. In court Friday, Boyce said she asked Simon to be there to hear her impact statement, but was told by Simon she couldn’t fit it into her schedule.
Following an emergency meeting on Friday, MSU’s Board of Trustees announced their continued support for Simon, saying they would not act to remove her as president. They also asked the state Attorney General’s office to investigate MSU to determine if any officials played a role in suppressing complaints against Nassar.
Trustee Mitch Lyons was the only one to call for Simon’s resignation. In a statement released to MLive, Lyons said he didn’t believe Simon had knowingly engaged in any wrongdoing, but needed to resign in order for the community to heal.
“While President Simon has done many great things during her time at MSU, this atrocity is simply too much to overcome and our institutional accountability has been compromised,” he said. “I have empathy for the position she is in but her legacy does not take precedence in this situation.”