Toll of Nassar victims rises to 265

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Charlotte — A week after a judge sentenced Larry Nassar to 40-to-175 years in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes, the former Michigan State University sports doctor began facing at least 65 more victims, raising the toll of his damage to 265 young women.

The proceeding, which began Wednesday in an Eaton County courtroom, included many women who said they were inspired by the courage of the 157 women who spoke over seven days recently in Ingham County and captivated the world by detailing Nassar’s prolific sexual abuse.

Among those who spoke Wednesday was Justine Lynn, a Grosse Pointe Woods woman who read a letter on behalf of her daughter, Chandler Lynn, who is in college in Rhode Island.

In the letter, Lynn, 19, a gymnast, recounted how she last saw Nassar in August 2016. She said he later told her he was under investigation for sexually abusing patients but assured her the claims would be proven false.

“I hate that I trusted you so deeply,” wrote Lynn. “I hate how you fooled me and brainwashed me into thinking you were an amazing doctor. I feel ashamed that I felt for so long that I was lucky to be a patient of yours and thought of you as my friend, when all along you were my abuser.”

She wrote that for the longest time she refused to believe there were “people as evil as you in the world.

“You are only a sick, pathological liar to yourself and everyone around you,” Lynn wrote. “You are a manipulator and a monster ... Since 2013, I thought that you saved me. You, Larry, did not save me. You ruined me. You hurt and betrayed me more than I ever felt was possible. What saved me was the 150-plus women who faced you in court and told their stories to the world. Without them, I would not be speaking out.”

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Lynn is among at least 65 women who are scheduled to testify or submit written statements during Nassar’s sentencing hearing for three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct before Eaton County Judge Janice K. Cunningham. It’s possible the number of victims who want to speak could increase before the hearing is over.

Already, more than 150 women delivered victim impact statements during the former sports doctor’s sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court when a judge handed him the 40-175-year sentence for sexually assaulting young athletes after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

In December, a federal judge gave the USA Gymnastics doctor a 60 year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to possessing 37,000 images of child pornography charges.

So Nassar, 54, is essentially going to prison for life. The sentencing hearing before Cunningham will add another sentence to run concurrently with his two other sentences and give victims a last chance to confront Nassar.

On Wednesday, 29 women spoke, either in person, a written statement or on video.

The proceedings will continue Friday; 35 more victims are expected to give statements, said Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis. The hearing possibly could extend into Monday or Tuesday, Cunningham said. Many who are speaking in the Eaton County hearing saw Nassar at Gedderts’ Twistars USA Gymnastics Club in Eaton County, but they hail from all over.

Like the request made in Ingham County, prosecutors are seeking a sentence for Nassar of 40 to 125 years in prison.

Most who spoke Wednesday asked Cunningham to give Nassar the maximum sentence including Erin Blayer, a soccer player who saw Nassar for back pain when she was 12. She lashed out at Nassar, asking him if he ever knew that one day he would fall from his pedestal.

“It is hard to break an addiction, but the fact it was wrong and it took you 20 years to admit absolutely disgusts me,” said Blayer, 17. “Was it so hard to reach out for help?”

She also challenged MSU, and wondered how many lives would have been spared abuse if someone had done the right thing.

“If someone with a molecule of wisdom at Michigan State had tried to make a difference, hundreds of lives would be different today,” said Blayer.

The tenor of Wednesday’s proceeding was more subdued than in Ingham County. But the stories that victims shared with Cunningham echoed the same pain: Many women said they met Nassar, he earned their trust, groomed them with gifts then inserted his fingers inside of them during medical appointments without gloves, sometimes repeatedly over the years.

Nassar sat in the courtroom, wearing orange prison garb, and held his head low.

At one point, a woman asked to remain anonymous was crying as she testified, barked at Nassar: “Look at me!”

Still another, Annette M. Hill, called Nassar many names in a letter a court official read into the record.

“You are a narcissist psychopath,” Hill wrote. “You are a menace to society.”

Hill also spoke to MSU leaders, including former President Lou Anna Simon and the university trustees, saying she was “sickened” by their inaction.

“Where were you when we needed you,” Hill said. “MSU knew what was being done to young athletes but they decided to turn a blind eye to keep their reputation strong and to make sure their pockets were full. If they had only taken action on the first report, it would have saved me and all the other athletes standing before us today from a life of pain and agony.”

Hill was referencing assaults that came after others sounded the alarm to MSU beginning in 1997. Two weeks ago, a Detroit News investigation found that reports of sexual misconduct involving Nassar reached 14 staff members at MSU over two decades before he was fired in September 2016. Among them was Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and police report had been filed against an unnamed physician.

After the seven days of testimony and numerous calls for her resignation, Simon resigned hours after a judge gave Nassar the lengthy sentence last Wednesday. Athletic Director Mark Hollis stepped down two days later last Friday.