Judge signs 'death warrant' for Nassar: 40-175 years

Kim Kozlowski, and Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Lansing — Larry Nassar faced a reckoning Wednesday for sexually abusing young athletes for more than two decades, as an Ingham County judge sentenced the former sports doctor to 40-175 years in prison.

After hearing seven days of testimony from more than 150 victims, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina  condemned Nassar, telling the fallen physician: "I just signed your death warrant."

Nassar's victims hugged, cried and celebrated at least a measure of closure.

“My monster is gone,” said Kyle Stephens, who was abused by Nassar in his home for six years, after the court was adjourned. “He’s going to die in prison. It’s over.”

Rachael Denhollander, the woman who drove the MSU investigation into Nassar that led to his conviction, said that Aquilina’s sentence was appropriate for what Nassar did.

But it took a village to put Nassar away for the rest of his life.

“I’m very grateful,” said Denhollander, a former Kalamazoo resident now living in Louisville. “It took so many people to get to this point. It took an investigative team and a police chief who fought for us. It took a prosecutorial chief who fought for us. It took 160 women coming forward and raising their voices to get to where we got to today.”

Before his sentence, Nassar spoke briefly and apologized, adding that his pain is nothing compared to the agony he inflicted on so many young women and their families.

“An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible,” said Nassar, 54. “I will carry your words for the rest of my days.”

His attorney, Matt Newburg, added that people ask all the time if Nassar is remorseful.

“Larry is sorry for what he has done,”said Newburg. “But we realized these words are completely inconsequential to those who are listening and fall woefully short of an adequate apology to fully address what has transpired. As adults, we understand the consequences for our actions. Larry’s actions have led to an unquanitifiable amount of pain.”

Before being sentenced, Nassar read an apology to his victims, saying: "No words can express the depth and breadth of how sorry I am."

The last victim to speak Wednesday was Denhollander, the woman who made the police report about Nassar that led to more than 200 other women coming forward and Nassar’s firing from MSU and conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Denhollander asked Aquilina to give Nassar the maximum penalty "because everything is what these survivors are worth."

Addressing Nassar, Denhollander said: "Larry, you have shut yourself off from everything truly beautiful in this world and I pity you for it."

The next-to-last victim to speak, gymnast Kaylee Lorincz, spoke of how Nassar's abuse, which began when she was 13, affected her. "You stole my innocence from me," she told him. "All I could do is question why were you doing this and when will it be over?"

Lorincz said she has trouble trusting others, especially doctors, but told Nassar, "We were ultimately strong enough to take you down. Not one by one, but as an army of survivors."

Kalamazoo resident Sterling Riethman struggled for a long time like others to accept that she was a survivor of sexual assault. But through a process, she came to understand how she was blindsided by Nassar’s reputation and the promises to treat her injuries even though his actions were criminal.

As she stood before Aquilina, Riethman said her testimony Wednesday is only part of her story.

“Here we are, re-telling the past, explaining our present, and working towards a better future,” Riethman said. “We stand here today amongst all of you, providing brief looks into our long process of healing and the systems that failed us, so that little girls tomorrow won’t have to do the same. Our words today are simply the start. They are merely excerpts we’ve pulled from an otherwise multi-page story, that is being added to every day.

“We will continue to write the pages of our story and the pages of history as we stand in solidarity against sexual abuse. We live the unabridged versions every day.”

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Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography. He will face another sentence in Eaton County for three more counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

In all, nine survivors were involved in the charges, but victims have continued to come forward to police.

Civil lawsuits continue to be filed by women and are now nearing 200 against Nassar, MSU and others, said Okemos-based attorneys Mick Grewal and David Mittleman.

Lawyers for the victims and MSU and USAG agreed to meet to discuss possible ways to limit discovery in a federal lawsuit filed by the victims.

The 20 attorneys, who attended a hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, are trying to comply with a judge’s wishes to streamline the legal process.

Lawyers for the victims say they need discovery, or disclosure of relevant material, to argue various issues in the lawsuit, such as MSU’s contention that the statute of limitations has expired for many of the complaints.

MSU and USAG argued that it was premature to have any discovery until Judge Gordon Quist rules on their motion that the cases should be dismissed. The dismissal argument is based on several factors, including the statute of limitations.

But Quist seemed open to having limited discovery, and the two sides agreed to try to hash something out in the coming weeks.

At the beginning of the 90 minute hearing, the judge was shocked by what he saw.

“I’ve never seen more lawyers in my life,” he said.

Nassar's sentencing followed a Detroit News investigation that found that reports of his sexual misconduct reached at least 14 university representatives in the two decades before his arrest.

Among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician.

Once a famous now infamous sports doctor, Nassar sexually assaulted young girls under the guise of an osteopathic medical treatment for two decades. He digitally penetrated the young women, who were mostly gymnasts, many times while their parents were in the room.

When he pleaded guilty to first degree criminal sexual conduct charges last year, Aquilina allowed any woman who was assaulted by Nassar and to make a statement before she sentenced him.

Already, a federal judge has given him a 60-year sentence for possessing 37,000 images of child pornography. But Wednesday’s sentence is his first for his criminal sexual conduct. He will also face sentencing in Eaton County on Jan. 31.

Nassar is believed to have victimized at least 200 young women when they were girls, since that many have filed civil lawsuits against him, MSU, USAG and others.

While he is not the biggest pedophile to get sentenced to jail, he is among the worst in history, according to Dr. Eli Newberger, a former Harvard University professor and expert in child sexual abuse.

Over seven days, 156 women came before Aquilina. Initially, 88 women wanted to speak, said Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis.

“The breadth and ripple of this defendant’s abuse and destruction is nearly infinite,” Povilaitis said. “It centers in the Lansing and Michigan State University communities, it spans the state of Michigan and reaches club and elite training gyms, collegiaite athlete and even the United States and international Olympic communities. And it’s not even limited to gymnastics, as athletes from a dozen different sports have reported abuse.”

Francis X. Donnelly contributed.