Judge to Nassar: ‘Tragedy is incomprehensible’

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Time’s up for Larry Nassar and the institutions where he operated as a prolific child molester, his victims said Monday.

Larry Nassar appears in the court of Judge Janice Cunningham for sentencing on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018.

After more than a year of proceedings, Eaton County Circuit Judge Janice Cunningham brought to a close Nassar’s criminal matters when she handed him another 40-to-125 years in prison for sexually molesting hundreds of girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment.

“The depth and the tragedy is incomprehensible,” Cunningham said. “You are a doctor, and you took an oath to do no harm, but you harmed more than 250 young women. ... You will spend the rest of your life in prison, left with the memories of destroying your family and so many others around you.”

The sentence is Nassar’s third, and final, for his sex crimes committed over more than two decades while he was a sports doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

More:Thin line between Penn State, MSU sex abuse scandals

Already, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff sentenced Nassar in December to 60 years in prison for possessing hoards of child pornography. Two weeks ago in another county, Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to 40-to-175 years in prison.

Nassar apologized in Eaton County court before officials led him away to serve his sentences, which will run concurrently. He will begin serving in a federal prison, but it’s not clear which one.

Judge Janice Cunningham handed Larry Nassar a sentence of 45-125 years in prison.

“It’s impossible to convey the depth and breadth of how sorry I am to each and everyone involved,” Nassar said. “The visions of your testimony will forever be present in my thoughts.”

Afterward, many of Nassar’s victims said it’s a new day.

“We can officially move on,” said Ashley Erickson, 29, of Potterville. “We can put our monster away.”

Melissa Vigogne, who flew in from France to confront Nassar last week, added she also felt a sense of closure.

“I don’t want this story to be over,” said Vigogne, 35. “This is just a chapter. There is so much more that needs to be done. We also know there are so many who have not come forward.”

Since last month, more than 200 women spoke over nine days in Ingham and Eaton county courtrooms about the impact the sexual abuse inflicted by Nassar has had on their lives.

They detailed Nassar’s assaults, testifying he inserted his fingers into their vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent. He touched some of the young girls’ breasts and sometimes abused them while the females’ parents were in the room. Some reported signs he was sexually aroused when he assaulted them.

The women shared stories of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-doubt, trust issues, intimacy struggles and fears for their children. Some even spoke of suicidal thoughts.

Last month’s hearing in Ingham County was slated to last four days with 88 victims but stretched into seven days with 156 victims. Most shed their Jane Doe after Kyle Stephens, the first woman to speak publicly and reveal her identity, delivered a powerful statement with a quote that some women put on signs and carried at the 2018 Women’s March.

“Little girls don't stay little forever,” Stephens said to Nassar. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."

Media from around the globe documented the moment that some hailed as a milestone moment in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Rachael Denhollander, whose complaint about Nassar is credited with bringing out scores of other victims and stopping his molestations, hopes historians will portray the victims who rose up against Nassar as the first time women were able to raise their voices and speak the truth about sexual assault.

“I hope this will be a turning point for how sexual assault is viewed and treated in society,” Denhollander said. “And I hope it will be a turning point in the institutional dynamics that allowed it to flourish.”

Larissa Boyce — the first to tell a Michigan State University official about Nassar 20 years ago but was not believed — added this time cannot be forgotten.

“When people forget, the cycle continues,” Boyce said. “In order for our society to change around sexual abuse, people can’t forget these stories.”

Scrutiny is now expected to ramp up at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics — where Nassar sexually assaulted girls. The institutions face investigations, lawsuits, lost leaders and supporters as a result of the scandal.

“The criminal proceedings with Larry are done, but we will now be turning our attention with even greater force to the institutional dynamics that lead to the greatest sexual assault scandal in history,” Denhollander said. “I hope to see true leadership arising in the future at MSU.”

Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis hugs victims after court was adjourned.

The sentence for Nassar also begins a new chapter in the life of the once famous, now infamous osteopathic sports doctor who treated gymnasts, including many Olympians, other athletes and dancers.

Nassar’s rise started in Metro Detroit, where he attended North Farmington High School and began working with gymnasts in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 1985 from the University of Michigan and earned his medical degree from Michigan State University in 1993.

He settled in Holt, south of the state capital area, where he was a husband and father of three children. He was also a leader in the community, serving as the sports team doctor for Holt Public Schools and Sunday school teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing.

One of his children has autism, leading him to start a foundation to introduce children with special needs to gymnastics.

But allegations against Nassar emerged in August 2016 when Denhollander, a former Kalamazoo resident, reported Nassar to MSU and the Indianapolis Star published a story a few weeks later featuring her story.

Eventually, scores of women began coming forward and said they also were assaulted by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment.

His victims were mostly minors, with the youngest being six years old. Most lived in Michigan, but some lived in other states.

For months, Nassar denied the accusations, saying he was doing a legitimate medical treatment involving pelvic floor work.

But he admitted guilt last summer for possessing child pornography and late last year admitted guilt to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Ingham and Eaton counties as more than 200 women filed civil lawsuits against him, MSU, USA Gymnastics and others.

“Will we ever truly know the breadth of the evil acts committed by this defendant?” Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said during her closing statement on Monday. “The breadth of the defendant’s abuse and destruction is nearly infinite.”

The scandal has lead to one of the most tumultuous chapters at MSU, Michigan’s largest public university.

Reports of Nassar’s sexual misconduct reached at least 14 Michigan State representatives over two decades, including former President Lou Anna Simon, a Detroit News investigation found.

Meanwhile, USA Gymnastics also is grappling the scandal. In March 2017, President Steve Penny resigned. Three top executives resigned last month, and the entire board resigned last week.

USAG last month cut ties with the Karolyi ranch, the national gymnastics team training center, and suspended John Geddert, owner of Twistars and former U.S. women’s national team coach.