Nassar loses first of three sentence appeals

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar

Larry Nassar —  the child molester who had waged a multi-faceted appeal of his prison sentenced in three courts — has lost his federal court appeal, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

In Nassar's appeal of his federal sentence, his attorney argued that the court erred in calculating his 60-year sentence for possessing 37,000 images of child pornography and said it is unreasonable for it to run consecutively with two other prison sentences for criminal sexual misconduct involving minors.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed and upheld the sentence imposed on Nassar, the former Michigan State University physician who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct, possessing child pornography and then trying to destroy the files after learning he was under investigation.

"In considering the ... sentencing factors, the district court highlighted Nassar’s extensive collection of child pornography (which the court said was unique in its
magnitude) his destruction of evidence, his abuse of a position of trust as a physician to serially abuse his patients, and his infliction of serious emotional and psychological harm —  'deep wounds' in the words of the district court — on vulnerable victims," according to court documents.

"In light of these considerations, the court concluded that Nassar would continue to be 'a real and present danger to children,' and therefore its sentence needed to promote punishment, deterrence, and protection of the public. To accomplish those goals, the district court determined that it was “imperative that Mr. Nassar be deterred for as long as possible.”  

The appeals court ruling indicated that the federal court did not err when it decided to make Nassar's sentences consecutive.

"In deciding to impose consecutive sentences, the district court relied on the duration, enormity, and gravity of Nassar’s criminal conduct; the serious harm that Nassar inflicted on his victims; and the serious safety threat that Nassar presents to the public," according to the court documents. 

"The district court found that Nassar was not similarly situated to other defendants given the scope of his criminal conduct. The district court agreed with the government’s observation that at least some of Nassar’s activities occurred outside of the State of Michigan, and thus at least implicitly recognized that Nassar’s state sentences for first-degree criminal sexual conduct would not account for all of his criminal behavior."

Nassar's attorney on his federal appeal, Amy Lee Copeland of Georgia, could not be immediately reached for comment. She filed the appeal in May.

Over 20 years, Nassar, 55, sexually abused and sexually assaulted dozens
of girls, mostly female patients. Shortly after Rachael Denhollander came forward and publicly accused him in September 2016, MSU fired Nassar and he paid a local business to wipe all of the data from his laptop computer. He then threw in his trash can several computer hard drives that contained the child porn images, which police recovered.

Nassar has also appealed his two sentences in Ingham and Eaton counties, 40-175 years and 40-125 years, respectively, for criminal sexual misconduct while a sports doctor at Michigan State University. He has challenged the length of his sentences and requested that they run concurrently. His lawyers also asked Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to recuse herself from his appeal, alleging she was biased. But Aquilina denied Nassar's request and Ingham County Chief Judge Richard Garcia upheld her ruling.

Nassar had been serving his federal sentence in the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson for six months but was moved recently to an Oklahoma holdover facility in the wake of an assault. Experts say he is likely being transferred to a prison where there won't be a threat to his safety, likely a high-security facility in Indiana or Florida.