Nassar victims: ‘He should be locked up’

Kim Kozlowski Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Editor's note: This story was originally published Jan. 16, 2018.

Lansing — After Lindsey Schuett was first sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, she was quiet for days and cried at night.

Many young women broke their silence Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, and told a judge how their lives have been impacted by the sexual abuse inflicted on them by Larry Nassar.

Then 16, Schuett knew she would have to go back to the former Michigan State University doctor, so she told her high school counselor and her mother about the abuse. But neither reported Nassar to the authorities.

When she next saw Nassar, she begged him not to do that particular treatment in which he used his fingers to penetrate her. He chastised her, but then he softened and said he was only trying to make her feel better.

“No one was going to help me, and he refused to stop,” Schuett said. “So that day, I screamed out … it went silent. He stopped for a moment. But then it became apparent he was going to go back to his abuse. As his hand went to penetrate me again, I screamed out, but this time I let it all go ... I was going to scream and wail until he never touched me again.”

Schuett was among 29 victims who shared heart-wrenching stories of abuse by Nassar on Tuesday, the first day of his sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court. 

Nassar pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of first-degree criminal conduct involving seven victims between 1998 and 2015. The plea included two counts against a victim under the age of 13 and five counts against victims between the ages of 13 and 15. Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 40 to 125 years.

For months before entering his plea, Nassar had denied the charges, which emerged after former Kalamazoo resident and gymnast Rachael Denhollander came forward in August 2016. Nassar was arrested three months later and a tip line was set up, resulting in 125 complaints to MSU police.

Most of the young women who addressed the court Tuesday chose to publicly identify themselves and read statements, many of them breaking down in tears as they shared the trauma they endured. A few of them submitted letters that officials from the Prosecutor’s Office read in the courtroom. Schuett’s story was one of two that was broadcast via video since she is now living in South Korea.

Another 69 young women will give statements every day this week, for an expected total of 98 victims. When it’s over, Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will sentence Nassar, who abused scores of girls and young women under the guise of a medical treatment for two decades. 

Every woman asked Aquilina to impose the maximum sentence on Nassar.

“He should be locked up and the key should be thrown away,” said Lansing resident Annette Hill, adding that he doesn’t deserve anything less than an eternity.

Aquilina spoke to every women who made a statement and encouraged them in their journeys as they worked to move past the abuse. She told them she was proud of them for sharing what happened to them and also for confronting their abuser. 

Nassar, dressed in a jail jumpsuit and seated in the court’s witness box, often hung his head during the testimony but did not speak.

“To Lindsey, I want her to know, your screaming has been heard,” Aquilina said. “Our country does not have an eye for an eye. Michigan does not have the death penalty ... I heard your screams. I will make a determination. I hope you will like it.”

The first to speak on Tuesday was Kyle Stephens, the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar last February. She revealed her identity for the first time in court Tuesday, recounting how Nassar exposed himself, masturbated in front of her, used her feet to rub his groin and inserted his fingers inside of her, beginning when was 6. 

She said the assaults that Nassar inflicted on her in the basement of his home led to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and crying bouts on the floor for hours. She had feelings of shame, disgust and self-hatred.

At times, she felt like she wanted to die.

“When I look back now, I realize my spirit was broken,” Stephens said. “Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing act. It changes the trajectory of someone’s life, and that is something no one has the right to do.”

Stephens told Nassar that she is still sickened by the smell of the lotion he used in the basement when he masturbated, and she still flinches when her feet are near someone’s lap.

“You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification,” Stephens said. “You are a compulsive liar. ... But little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

More poignant testimony came from the earliest known woman whom Nassar abused. She did not reveal her identity Tuesday. She was an 8-year-old gymnast at the Great Lake Gymnasts Club in Lansing and he was not yet the famous doctor who worked with USA Gymnasts and Olympic champions.

 She peppered him with questions: Was it always his plan to abuse young girls when he started working with gymnasts in high school? Had he abused anyone before then? Was his good-guy persona just an act? 

“Most importantly, who was your first girl? Am I her?” she said, addressing Nassar. “Was there any traceable, albeit faint, voice of conscience within you back then saying, ‘Don’t do it?’”

She said she would never know the answers to her questions, but did know that she was in his apartment when she was 12 years old, naked, and he was 28. He was in medical school at Michigan State and had asked her to come to his apartment for a study on flexibility.

“You chose to take from me, from all of us, something that was not yours to take,” she said.

The woman also said she wanted Nassar to know that she is successful and doing well.

“Your legacy will not be that of a healer, a great Olympic and Michigan State doctor, of a respectable man. ... Your legacy is that you are quite possibly the greatest perpetrator of child sexual abuse of all time.” 

Donna Markham testified that Nassar took her daughter, Chelsey, from her.

Markham told the court that after Chelsey saw Nassar, she was filled with so much pain that she became depressed, got involved with the wrong crowd and eventually took her own life 10 years ago. Chelsey was 23.

“Every day, I miss her. And it all started with him,” said Markham, looking at Nassar.

Besides the profound impact of Nassar on the victims’ lives, many spoke about their frustration with Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics for allowing Nassar to prey on young women for so long

Olivia Cowan, who was 13 when she first went to see Nassar for severe back pain, said she was bothered hearing that MSU President Lou Anna Simon would not be present in the courtroom. She wanted an apology.

“I really hoped that she would be present in this room, not listening from a stream to all of the pain this has caused,” said Cowan, who lives in Chicago. “With the recordings stemming back from ’97, they should have known, they should have listened and they should have taken action to make sure this was under control.” 

In a statement, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said Simon and Brian Breslin, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, were among those “viewing the brave women who have come forward to tell their stories at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing.”

“We want to say again that we are truly sorry for the abuse Nassar’s victims suffered, the pain it caused, and the pain it continues to cause,” Cody said. “But as we have said previously, any suggestion that the university covered up Nassar’s horrific conduct is simply false.”

Nassar already was essentially sentenced to life in prison when a federal judge slapped him with a 60-year term in December for possession of 37,000 images of child pornography, to which he also pleaded guilty.

But Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis asked Aquilina to sentence Nassar to 40 years to 125 years in a sentencing memo last week.

“For decades, Nassar preyed upon unknowing victims at every turn and at every opportunity: in the basement of his home, at his medical clinic, at his volunteer gym, at United States Gymnastics training facilities and at hotels across the world,” Povilaitis wrote.

“He used his trusted and respected position as a physician to harm instead of heal, to secure unlimited access to a pool of victims, to live out every day his deviant sexual desires while maintaining a secret collection of child sexually abusive photographs and videos that was not only vast but grotesque.

“The span and breadth of (Nassar’s) crimes are almost unimaginable.”