MSU doctor Nassar pleads guilty
For the first time, a disgraced Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor admitted Wednesday that he sexually assaulted girls under the guise of a medical treatment.
Larry Nassar, 54, made the admission when he pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County Circuit Court as many of his other alleged victims stood in the courtroom and watched.
Nassar plans to plead guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County court next Wednesday, avoiding a trial that was set for Dec. 4, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said Wednesday. This brings the total to 10 first-degree criminal sexual conduct counts involving nine victims.
Each of the counts is punishable by 25 to 40 years in prison. All victims can give impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing, including 125 victims who reported incidents to Michigan State University. All complainants agreed with the plea deal, Povilaitis said.
Nassar verbally acknowledged the charges in court. The hearing is continuing.
Nassar agreed to lifetime electronic monitoring as part of the plea deal.
It was a dramatic moment Wednesday in court, which came months after six women and three minors testified for hours earlier this year about what he did to them, and the aftermath in their lives.
More than 140 others joined a civil lawsuit against Nassar and more than 100 complained to MSU officials. Several Olympic gymnasts also claimed during television interviews or on social media that he assaulted him.
All said Nassar gained their trust when they were young gymnasts and then betrayed them. Most said he digitally penetrated them without gloves, lubricant or consent while treating them for injuries. In some cases, the treatments lasted up to 45 minutes. At times their parents were in the room while he was abusing them but the young women said he positioned himself so their parents couldn’t see what he was doing.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office agreed not to file additional charges against Nassar involving 125 cases alleging sexual abuse.
Among the victims in the courtroom on Wednesday was Rachael Denhollander, a 32-year-old former Kalamazoo resident now living in Louisville. While many other women said they told someone about Nassar in the years he worked at MSU, Denhollander’s story about Nassar was the first to gained traction when she told it to the Indianapolis Star in September 2016, prompting scores of other women to come forward.
In May, Denhollander gave one of the most damning testimonies when she testified in one of Nassar’s preliminary hearings. She said he penetrated her vaginally and anally with his fingers, and touched her clitoris and breasts during five treatments that began in early 2000.
In one instance, his cheeks were flushed, eyes were closed and he was visibly aroused. At the the time, she was 15.
“I am so grateful to see justice beginning to come for all the victims of Larry Nassar,” Denhollander said.
Nassar is next set to appear Nov. 29 in Eaton County Circuit Court, where he faces three first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.
He is not facing charges in any other states.
It’s unclear how the sentencing will play out in Nassar’s case. But plea agreements are calculations by defense lawyers as to the risk of proceeding to a trial and the expected outcome there versus the certainty of a plea deal, said University of Michigan Professor David Moran, who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure at the law school.
“Typically, a plea deal will offer a specific sentence or a narrower range of sentences than you could get than if you went to trial, in which there is no deal on the table and the judge had much wider discretion,” Moran said. “The whole point of taking a plea deal is to attempt to get more certainty and a less harsh sentence than one would get if one went to trial and got convicted.”