Judge: Nassar victims “superheroes for all of America"

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

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.

Former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar expresses remorse in court after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault charges in Lansing  Wednesday.  Behind is attorney Shannon Smith.

Each of the counts is punishable by 25-40 years in prison. All victims can give impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing, including 125 victims who reported incidents to Michigan State University.

Nassar verbally acknowledged the charges in court. "Guilty as stated, your honor," he said when asked by Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

He made a statement in which he apologized for his actions and said he hoped his admissions would start the healing process for his victims.

“For all those involved … I’m so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control,” Nassar said. “I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. I want them to heal."

Nassar agreed to lifetime electronic monitoring as part of the plea deal.

Aquilina agreed that it is "time for healing, but it may take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your lifetime behind bars thinking about what you did in taking away their childhood.”

She described the accusers as “superheroes for all of America, because this is an epidemic.”

The judge set sentencing for Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. The judge said it is expected to be an all-day hearing in which all victims will be allowed to speak.

If more time is needed to take victim impact statements, Aquilina said there would be another hearing on Jan. 19.

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 Nassar 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.

Former youth gymnast Alexis Alvarado, right, is hugged by family friend Deedee Hazen after former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar pleaded guilty.

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 gain 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 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.