Defense questions gymnasts' accounts in Klages trial

Ariana Taylor
Special to The Detroit News

Lansing — The defense team for Kathie Klages sought Thursday to cast doubt on the accounts of two former gymnasts who say they told the Michigan State University gymnastics coach that school doctor Larry Nassar was sexually abusing them during treatment.

Klages’ attorneys made their case during her perjury trial in Ingham County Circuit Court by calling 10 witnesses to challenge certain details of testimony from Larissa Boyce and an anonymous woman, both of whom said they informed Klages of Nassar's conduct in 1997.

Boyce, who was 16 at the time, testified Tuesday that Klages dismissed her concerns and brought in other gymnasts to discredit her claims against Nassar.

The defense witnesses testified they knew of no such meeting taking place.

Rick Atkinson, a former MSU men’s gymnastics coach who founded the Spartan Youth Gymnastics program alongside Klages, testified it was highly unlikely for any Spartan Youth Gymnastics participants to meet with him in his office. He also testified that there were never any joint meetings between his program participants and MSU team gymnasts. 

“I coached the boys Spartan youth and I coached the men’s gymnastics team and I would assume I would know if I was in the gym all the time,” Atkinson said when asked how he would know about any joint meetings between the gymnasts. 

Jennifer Jallo, who was a graduate assistant for MSU’s athletic training department in 1997, testified that athletic trainers and medical professionals hired by MSU were not assigned to help any Spartan Youth Gymnastics participants.

“It would usually be the parents (who arranged medical attention) because they were all minors,” she said. 

Jallo, who sometimes worked with Nassar, testified that he could not treat any of the program participants “in the university facility because there would be no coverage.”  

Assistant attorney general Danielle Hagaman-Clark followed Jallo’s answer by asking if Nassar did a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to. Jallo said she didn’t know of anything that he was doing that was improper. 

Judge Joyce Draganchuk said the jury is likely to begin deliberations Friday in the case against Klages, who is charge with one felony count and one misdemeanor count of lying to a peace officer after telling investigators in 2018 she did not remember any gymnast reporting sexual misconduct by Nassar prior to 2016. 

If convicted, Klages could face up to four years in prison. Nassar is serving a de facto life prison sentence after pleading guilty to child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges.

Klages' attorney Mary Chartier argued Thursday that prosecutors had yet to provide any objective evidence the coach remembered gymnasts telling her Nassar was abusing them. 

“It’s all speculation," Chartier said. "There has to be some evidence that she remembered."  

Klages' attorney didn't indicate whether the defense would call more witnesses on Friday.  

The charges against Klages are part of the attorney general's ongoing investigation into what happened at the state's largest university that allowed Nassar, a former doctor, to sexually abuse scores of young women over two decades.

She is the fourth person to be charged in connection with the Nassar scandal and the first from MSU's athletic department. A Detroit News investigation found Klages was one of at least 14 MSU representatives who received reports of Nassar's conduct over two decades.

Klages abruptly retired from Michigan State after 27 seasons in February 2017, after two former gymnasts filed lawsuits against MSU and other institutions, saying they had told Klages about Nassar 20 years earlier.