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As Larry Nassar faces the first of three prison sentences Thursday for possessing thousands of images of child pornography and sexually assaulting more than 100 girls, some say he deserves the maximum of 60 years on the federal charges.

Others have told the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan that the disgraced physician is not the monster that many have labeled him.

During the year that the former Michigan State University sports doctor has been in jail, he’s been upbeat, written a book and helped three inmates complete their GED, according to a letter written by Nassar’s brother-in-law, filed with the federal court in Grand Rapids.

Nassar, who also was a team physician for USA Gymnastics, has helped a cellmate with ankle pain, asked others for books written in Spanish for a roommate, and helped another inmate reach out to his son. Nassar also is involved in prison Bible study, according to his brother-in-law’s letter, which is part of presentencing documents.

“In my experience, Larry has always been kind-hearted and helpful to anyone (who) came into his path,” wrote a cousin, whose name was redacted from the court document. “He has always been there to volunteer and serve others. If you needed help, he would pitch in cheerfully.”

But victims say Nassar must pay for preying on girls for decades, through child pornography and by sexually assaulting young athletes, mostly gymnasts, by digitally penetrating them during medical appointments.

“One of the defendant’s victims ... has poignantly summarized the posture of this case: ‘Larry Nassar is a predator without boundaries,’” according to a sentencing memo filed by U.S. Attorney Andrew Byerly Birge and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean M. Lewis. “‘If he is ever allowed to reenter society he will not hesitate to reoffend. We have all done our part to get to this point. Now it’s your turn. I implore you to do your part, exercise your power to the fullest extent.’

“‘Show all the predators watching that we as a judicial system and community will no longer tolerate this behavior.’”

Thursday, the moment of reckoning will come for Nassar — who has admitted in three separate pleadings that he possessed child pornography and sexually assaulted young girls.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff will sentence him for the child porn violations, which emerged after MSU began investigating him in August 2016 after former gymnast Rachael Denhollander told MSU police that he sexually assaulted her in 2000, when she was 15.

MSU fired Nassar in September after Denhollander’s accusations were reported by the Indianapolis Star, and a few days later, he turned in his work computer, which officials said was wiped completely clean, including the operating system.

While executing a search warrant, MSU police discovered external hard drives with more than 37,000 images and videos of child pornography that had been thrown away in Nassar’s garage can in front of his house on trash collection day.

After Denhollander’s report, many other victims came forward and told their stories to MSU; nearly 150 sought legal representation in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU, Gedderts’ Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, USA Gymnastics and other individuals. Months of mediation between the young women and MSU ended Wednesday without an agreement, and now their lawyers are preparing for trial.

Nassar, 54, initially pleaded innocent in the child pornography case, then admitted guilt in July.

While the three charges in the child pornography case carry a prison sentence ranging from 5-60 years, Nassar agreed when he pleaded guilty not to oppose an advisory sentencing range of 22-27 years, a starting point for the court to consider.

Under federal law, Neff can consider the scope of Nassar’s crimes, according to the sentencing memo filed by Birge and Lewis. They recommended the statutory maximum of 720 months, or 60 years.

“There is a close link between the defendant’s child-pornography activities and his prolific molestation of children,” the memo said. “The seriousness of his conduct, and the devastating impact it has had on the lives for so many, cannot be overstated. The defendant has proven through his conduct that he poses an immense risk to the community.”

Additionally, the memo said, Nassar is not the man most people knew.

“The defendant has led a double life,” the memo said. “On the surface, he was a respected, world-renowned expert for elite athletes. He was a medical doctor, a husband and a father. But underneath this veneer lurked a predator.”

Nassar maintained he was not guilty of the sexual assault charges during several hearings held in state courts throughout 2017. But he changed his plea last month in Ingham and Eaton counties and admitted guilt to 10 charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving nine young women. He will be sentenced in January.

He is expected to speak Thursday before Neff sentences him.

Many victims are expected to be in the courtroom — including Denhollander, former gymnast Larissa Boyce and Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney — and participate in two press conferences afterward.

“While Mr. Nassar wishes he could rewind the hands of time and make different choices, he realizes that is not possible,” wrote Shannon Smith, one of Nassar’s lawyers, in a letter filed in the court.

She pointed out that Mr. Nassar’s family has rallied behind him and given him an immense amount of support, and the theme of the letters of support are all the same.

“Mr. Nassar is a kind, compassionate, hard-working man of faith who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” Smith added.

“Mr. Nassar is in no way trying to escape responsibility for his past actions, and he deeply regrets the pain that he has caused the community, as well as his family and friends,” Smith wrote. “Mr. Nassar is acutely aware of the difficult position this court finds itself in. It must balance numerous interests to fashion a sentence that is both punitive and rehabilitative.”

But many of his victims see justice from the perspective of those he hurt.

“My hope is that the full weight of justice will be brought down on behalf of these precious little girls,” said Denhollander. “What Larry did should never be masked by sterile legal terms — he sought out photos and videos of children being subjected to sadistic sexual abuse, and he enjoyed their pain and humiliation. He found sexual enjoyment in their horrific abuse. Those little girls are worth every measure of justice the law can offer.”

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com

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