MSU doctor to stand trial on 17 sex charges

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Mason — When Larry Nassar was interviewed by a detective who was investigating an allegation he sexually abused a gymnast in 2000, the former Michigan State University doctor repeatedly explained how he performed treatments on those suffering from injuries.

Nassar, who was also lead physician for USA Gymnastics, said he used his hands to push and separate tissue to relieve tension in various areas of the body.

Sometimes, he penetrated the anus if he was working near the area of someone’s tailbone and said he used the required gloves.

Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Andrea Munford told Nassar in August about an allegation by Rachael Denhollander — a woman who was among the first to come forward with an allegation that Nassar penetrated her — accusing him of not wearing gloves and being sexually aroused when he treated her for gymnastics injuries beginning when she was 15.

Nassar, 53, of Holt said the alleged incident was long ago, and if he had an erection that would be embarrassing, unprofessional and not appropriate.

“When you are a guy, sometimes you get an erection,” Nassar said. “If I had an erection, I don’t know why I had an erection ... It’s hurtful for me to think I hurt someone.”

Nassar’s comments came from a video that was played in 55th District Court Friday before Judge Donald Allen Jr. before the judge ordered Nassar to stand trial on 17 charges of criminal sexual conduct involving young female gymnasts during medical treatments. The video was filmed in August when Munford interviewed Nassar after Denhollander filed the complaint.

No trial date was set Friday. The ruling means Nassar will now face at least three trials this year, and possibly a fourth, for alleged sexual assault of young athletes along with a federal trial on charges of possession of child pornography.

Nassar was a highly regarded physician until September, when allegations emerged that he treated injured athletes for decades with a procedure that involved him digitally penetrating female patients without a glove, lubricant or consent. He has denied wrongdoing.

Though not in court on Friday, Denhollander, now 32, said the latest trial gives her hope.

“I am so grateful to see justice beginning to be done, and the truth coming out,” she said. “At the same time, each of those 17 counts represents the destruction and pain Larry Nassar was able to cause to so many, for so long, and that is a painful and sobering thing to realize over and over again.

“Knowing we will be getting a trial and that the full truth will finally be known, gives me hope. Seeing so many courageous young women who have come forward and broken the silence and held firm to the truth gives me hope it will be worth it.”

Allen’s ruling came after Denhollander and five other females testified during a preliminary hearing held over two previous days. A seventh female was expected to be called by prosecutors in the courthouse near Lansing on Friday but was dropped.

Instead, Munford was called to the witness stand and the video was shown.

During the interview, Nassar said he had done a treatment on others “thousands” of times and said he’s trying to help patients the best he can. He is always explaining to them as he is working on them, and asking patients if the treatments make them feel better.

“How do I know if I am hurting them if I am not getting feedback?” Nassar said.

After the video, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said Nassar’s statement was false and urged Allen to order Nassar to stand trial.

During the hearings, all testified Nassar penetrated them with his fingers while not wearing gloves when they sought treatment for gymnastics-related injuries. In the case of Denhollander — the only one who revealed her identity — she testified that Nassar also touched her breasts and genitals and was visibly aroused.

“It would be appropriate to bind over in regards to each of the claims,” Allen said.

As result of Friday’s hearing, Nassar is facing 12 first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges — four of which involve two alleged victims younger than the age of 13. Additionally, he is facing five third-degree criminal sexual misconduct charges.

The charges involving the girls younger than the age of 13 carry a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence, Povilaitis said. The rest of the charges carry sentences of up to life in prison.

Nassar also faces a pretrial hearing on Aug. 7 and trial on Aug. 14 for federal charges of possession and receipt of child pornography.

Nassar will stand trial Oct. 23 on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person younger than 13 in a separate case.

Meanwhile, a preliminary hearing commences June 30 in Eaton County, which could possibly result in a fourth trial.

Nassar's cases involve a handful of women who have come forward. More than 100 women have filed civil lawsuits against him and 100 have filed complaints with MSU police.

Nassar was fired from MSU after he was accused in civil lawsuits of abusing dozens of female gymnasts and other athletes while treating them for sports-related injuries. He also has lost his license to practice medicine for three years.