High drama sets stage for Nassar’s next sentence

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Charlotte – The time for victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse to come forward publicly in court has ended, with 204 people speaking in two counties over nine days.

Testimony concluded in an Eaton County courthouse with 62 victims giving statements before Judge Janice Cunningham, starting on Wednesday and ending with a dramatic day Friday when one father tried to attack Nassar in the courtroom.

On Monday, Cunningham will hand Nassar a sentence, his third, for three counts of sexually abusing young women under the guise of medical treatment.

Already, a federal judge gave Nassar a 60-year sentence in December for possessing child pornography and a state judge gave Nassar 40-175 years last month for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

But before his final sentence, many took the opportunity to tell the judge how Nassar’s abuse shattered their lives, and how they are putting the pieces back together as they become part of the army of survivors who have shed their Jane Doe anonymity and spoken their truths before the world.

“There is no magical force that can right these wrongs,” said Melissa Vigogne, a former Florida resident who flew across the ocean from her home in France to speak at the last day of Nassar’s hearing.

“Time does not automatically heal,” Vigogne continued. “Evil does not recede on its own. It must be overcome and forced into retreat. We all have an obligation to be part of that force that will bring forth change, both here in this courtroom and out there where there is still so much work to be done.”

She asked Cunningham to give Nassar the maximum penalty, but not just so he would never get out of prison.

“Because it says that every survivor matters,” Vigogne said. “That those who inflict wounds and leave scars on the most vulnerable don’t get to get away with it.”

Others who spoke included Mariah McClain, a dancer who knew deep down that Nassar sexually assaulted her when she was 14. McClain decided to come forward when Oprah Winfrey gave her powerful speech at the Golden Globes last month that addressed the movement to end sexual misconduct against women.

McClain, 22, recounted how her heart raced when she called Meridian Township Police this month to report Nassar.

“Was I really asking the police to come to my house as a black woman when every 28 hours a back person is killed by police or vigilante,” said McClain, a Lansing resident and one of the few African-Americans to testify against Nassar. “To note, MSU detectives and the Meridian Township Police have been amazing.

“I amost didn’t come to give a statement today because I felt what I went through has been less than those of other women,” McClain added, “But I realize that’s the type of thinking that makes women like me go through this world normalizing atrocities.”

Nassar, who was also a USA Gymnastics doctor, preyed on women for decades as he treated local ahtletes, mostly gymnasts, but also some of the nation’s elite athletes while serving as the team doctor during the Olympics games. He initially denied his crimes when an investigation began in September 2016, then admitted he was guilty as dozens of women came forward and filed police reports or civil lawsuits.

The Eaton County sentencing hearing followed the proceeding in Ingham County that began Jan. 16 and captivated the world, with 156 women speaking about Nassar’s abuse over seven days.

During the Ingham County hearing, a Detroit News investigation revealed that reports of sexual misconduct involving Nassar had reached 14 staff members at MSU over two decades before he was fired in September 2016. Among them was then-MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint had been filed against an unnamed physician.

After numerous calls for her resignation, Simon resigned hours after a judge gave Nassar his 40-175-year sentence. Athletic Director Mark Hollis stepped down two days later and numerous investigations have been launched by several agencies, including the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the NCAA.

Friday’s proceedings began with Cunningham addressing statements by one of Nassar’s attorneys, Shannon Smith, that she doesn’t believe her client abused more than 250 women and girls who say he molested them.

“He did not know Ms. Smith was going to make those statements,” said Cunningham. “He did not authorize those statements. He has disavowed those statements.”

Cunningham then quickly turned the proceeding to the victims who came to speak.

Among them was Gabriella Ralph, who recounted her horrifying experience being assaulted by Nassar when she was 12.

“For about a half hour, Larry had his fingers inside me,” she said. “While he did that, his thumb rested somewhere else down there.”

“He stole my ability to trust others, and to trust myself.”

Kaitlyn Basel, who went to Nassar to be treated for injuries she sustained as a competitive dancer, said he should be locked up forever for his crimes.

She said she has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She said she’s tried to commit suicide and even resorted to self-harm, covering her bodies with scars.

“Larry,” Basel said, “deserves to spend the rest of his miserable life in prison for what he did to us.”