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Klages guilty of lying to investigators about Nassar abuse

Ariana Taylor
Special to The Detroit News

Lansing — Former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was convicted Friday on felony and misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators about what she knew about Larry Nassar's sexual abuse and when she knew it.

The verdict was announced late Friday afternoon in Ingham County Circuit Court after Klages testified that she first learned of Nassar's sexual abuse when a newspaper report was published in 2016.

Kathie Klages, right, sits with attorney Mary Chartier as they listen to testimony this week in Klages' trial in Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing.

However, former gymnast Larissa Boyce and a second woman testified Tuesday that they had told Klages in 1997 that Nassar was sexually assaulting them during treatment for injuries. Klages told investigators in 2018 that she did not remember those conversations.

Boyce expressed relief at the jury's verdict.

“I feel free, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me,” she said.

Klages is scheduled to be sentenced on April 13. The felony charge is punishable by up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

"Ms. Klages knew of Larry Nassar’s sexual misconduct but neglected to tell investigators,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.

“She could and should have acted on complaints about Larry Nassar decades ago. That is a failure on multiple levels, but none is more important than her failure to protect the young women who had the courage to speak up decades ago and the hundreds who became Nassar’s victims after that.”

Klages is the third former MSU employee to be convicted of a crime stemming from the Nassar scandal. A Detroit News investigation found Klages was one of at least 14 MSU representatives who received reports of Nassar's conduct over two decades.

Nassar himself is serving a de facto life prison term after pleading guilty to child pornography and sexual assault charges.

Nassar's onetime boss, former osteopathic medical school dean William Strampel, is serving a one-year jail sentence for willful neglect of duty linked to his supervision of Nassar and misconduct in office related to inappropriate comments he made to female students.

In testimony earlier Friday, Klages said she was in an MSU gymnasium when someone from the university's sports information department walked in during a practice and informed her and her collegiate gymnasts about the story in the Indianapolis Star, which was published in September 2016.

The report included allegations from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to speak out against Nassar, that the sports medicine doctor had sexually abused her years earlier.

In comments posted on Twitter after Friday's verdict, Denhollander said she was "so proud" of Boyce and "my other sister survivor" for their testimony.

The two women "told the truth in 1997," Denhollander wrote. "They told the truth again to police in 2016. And they told the truth again this week. Heard and believed, more than 20 years later."   

Klages said she had known Nassar, who was a sports doctor at MSU, since 1988 and that it didn’t cross her mind that he could have victimized any of her athletes. 

“I was very passionate in my defense of Nassar in that meeting,” she testified in Ingham County Circuit Court. 

Due to her reaction to the allegations against Nassar, Klages said it was possible that her comments could have discouraged her gymnasts from coming forward about any abuse. 

Klages was accused of lying to investigators from the Michigan Attorney General's Office when she told them in 2018 that she did not remember having two gymnasts tell her in 1997 that Nassar was abusing them during treatments for injuries.  

The former gymnastics coach acknowledged there were similarities between her reaction to the public allegations against Nassar in 2016 and testimony from Larissa Boyce and another woman that Klages had refused nearly 20 years earlier to believe the doctor was abusing them. 

“I thought Dr. Nassar was a very good doctor so I guess you can say there were similar qualities, but I do not remember those two gymnasts telling (me) anything,” Klages said.

The defense rested after Klages' testimony.

In the closing statements from the prosecution and defense teams, there seemed to be a common theme: someone was lying. 

Assistant attorney general William Rollstin said in 2016 as well as 1997, Klages willfully disregarded abuse allegations against Nassar.

"Kathie Klages is acting the same way in 2016 as she did in 1997 when she put the lid on Larissa ... and ignored what they had to say to her," Rollstin said.

The prosecutor insisted Klages lied to police because her reputation and the reputation of MSU, her employer since 1990, were on the line. 

“Nobody has greater motive to lie here than Kathie Klages, and Kathie Klages isn’t a victim,” Rollstin said. 

Klages’ attorney, Mary Chartier, portrayed Boyce and the other former gymnast who testified as the ones who weren't truthful.

Chartier posted brightly colored papers across a small blackboard to highlight what she said were discrepancies in the women's testimony. 

She argued Boyce could not remember events in 1997 correctly because she reached out to multiple gymnasts in 2017, asking them to help her jog her memory. 

“How can a person need help remembering what happened in Mr. Nassar’s office but then tell you with such certainty that she told Mrs. Klages what was occurring in the office,” Chartier said. “This memory was real to her, but none of it was true.”

The defense attorney said the most significant point in Klages' defense is that she referred her two sons, daughter and her granddaughter to Nassar after 1997.

“If she had any memory of comments made to her in 1997 when she sent her granddaughter ... and her teenage daughter and her two other sons to Mr. Nassar, even if she had just an inkling, you would have to believe she’s some sort of monster to do that,” Chartier said. 

Nassar survivor Lindsey Lemke said Friday that the verdict for Klages is “justice for us.”

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction of people believing us and knowing we were right and giving us validation,” said Lemke, 24, a gymnast who was first abused by Nassar at age 10. “It’s really heartbreaking to know that it took this long for us to get to this point.”

Lemke was a gymnast at MSU from 2015-17 and had seen Nassar since seventh grade. She’s also been among the victims who’ve said they might have been spared if Klages would have spoken up about Nassar’s abuse. 

“Kathy herself obviously knew that she lied. To sit in court and try to defend yourself, I couldn’t imagine being that type of person,” she said. “Overall, her point was ‘I can’t remember, I have no recollection.’ In my opinion, I could never forget a child coming up to me and telling me they were sexually abused by their own doctor. To use an excuse of ‘I don’t remember’ is so sad and heartbreaking.”

Lemke said the experience still weighs heavily on the shoulders of those abused by Nassar.

“This changed lives forever,” she said. “It feels like there’s still a long way to go and there shouldn’t be. We’ve given up our privacy, and we’ve worked so hard to get justice and for people to hear our voices.”

Detroit News Staff Writers Christine Ferretti and Sarah Rahal contributed.