Ex-MSU, gymnastics doctor Nassar weighs plea deal

Charles E. Ramirez, and Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Fifteen months after scores of athletes began lodging sexual abuse allegations against a former Michigan State University sports doctor, Larry Nassar’s days of reckoning are on the horizon.

Nassar, 54, is considering a change to his plea in two state courts where he’s been charged with more than 20 criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly assaulting girls, mostly gymnasts, according to online court records.

Nassar, who also was a former team doctor for USA Olympics, has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting girls when he was treating them; he was scheduled for a trial to begin Dec. 4. Separately, more than 100 women have accused him of sexually assaulting them in civil lawsuits.

But now Nassar is scheduled to appear for a plea hearing Wednesday in Ingham County Circuit Court, and another plea hearing Nov. 29 in Eaton County Circuit Court.

The upcoming hearings are an emotional minefield for Larissa Boyce, who says she among the first to tell someone at MSU of Nassar’s alleged abuse.

Boyce said she reported to former head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages 20 years ago that she felt uncomfortable with Nassar’s treatments for injuries but wasn’t believed. She said she can’t believe he may plead guilty.

“Realizing this is going to be a reality soon, that he is going to admit to the crimes he committed is very surreal,” said Boyce, 37. “From the beginning, you think there is never going to be an end to it ... It’s going to take me some time to process.”

Nassar’s plea hearings will come days before he will be sentenced Dec. 7 on federal child pornography charges to which he pleaded guilty in July. He possessed 37,000 images of child pornography found on external hard drives after he turned in his work computer to MSU.

The child sexual abuse accusations against Nassar came to light in September 2016 when a former Kalamazoo woman, Rachael Denhollander, filed a police report and told the Indianapolis Star that Nassar routinely sexually assaulted her during treatments for a gymnastics injury when she was 15.

Denhollander came forward years after others, such as Boyce, made similar accusations that went nowhere.

Since Denhollander’s story became public, more than 100 women have complained to MSU, or are party to the criminal or civil lawsuits against him alleging that he digitally penetrated them without lubricant, gloves or consent.

Denhollander is the named plaintiff in a federal civil lawsuit that includes more than 125 women.

She also is among the witnesses in the former doctor’s criminal cases, which include 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Reached Wednesday, Denhollander declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed in the criminal case.

Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, said defendants often make plea deals to get a lighter sentence than one they could face if convicted at trial.

“He is in a tough position,” said Henning, pointing to the child pornography charges to which Nassar pleaded guilty. “It is going to be a difficult case for him to defend. Most defendants ultimately plead guilty.”

Many have wondered about MSU’s role in the abuse, since the university kept Nassar employed decades after complaints were allegedly made over the years. But MSU officals said they have always worked for the truth to prevail.

“While it is not appropriate for the university to comment on reports of a plea deal, MSU from the beginning has sought justice in the Larry Nassar case,” university spokesman Jason Cody said. “As our president has said, we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret any time someone in our community experiences it. We acknowledge it takes real courage for all victims of sexual violence who come forward.”

“As we have since August 2016, our police continue to work closely with state and federal prosecutors on the criminal proceedings involving Nassar,” Cody continued. “As the state and federal criminal charges facing Nassar show, his behavior was deeply disturbing and repugnant, and the responsibility for his actions is his alone. It was through the hard and diligent work of the MSU Police Department that Nassar is being brought to justice.”

Nassar began working with the U.S. national gymnastics team in 1986. He spent nearly 30 years as an osteopath with the USA Gymnastics program.

Nassar is being held in jail without bond on the pornography charges . He faces life in prison between the federal charges he pleaded guilty to and the state felony cases of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

John Manly, a California-based lawyer who represents 105 of the alleged Nassar victims, said the lawyers involved in the case cannot speak about a potential plea deal because of the gag orders.

“It’s highly irresponsible for any lawyer to comment on this as there is no plea agreement as far as I know,” he said. “The Attorney General’s Office has worked tirelessly to get the victims justice and we intend to let them do their job.”