Former MSU gymnastics coach Klages gets 90-day sentence, probation

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lansing — Six months after Kathie Klages was convicted of lying to police about what she knew about Larry Nassar's sexual abuse and when, an Ingham County Circuit judge on Tuesday handed her 90 days in jail and 18 months of probation.

Judge Joyce Draganchuk gave Klages, the former head gymnastics coach at Michigan State University, the jail sentence, minus one day, though her lawyers argued that Klages was at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to her age and other risk factors. Draganchuk also denied a request by her lawyers to stay the sentence, pending an appeal.

Former MSU Women's Gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages, center, reads a statement with attorneys Mary Chartier, left, and Takura Nyamfukudza before being sentenced in Lansing on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

The sentence came six months after Klages was found guilty by a jury in February of lying to a peace officer during the 2018 investigation into the sexual assaults committed over decades by Nassar, a former sports doctor, on MSU’s campus. Two witnesses testified that they told Klages about Nassar's abuse in 1997. 

"I feel like I can breathe," Larissa Boyce, one of the two witnesses, said after Klages' sentencing. "I feel like I can finally move forward, and past all of this."

But Klages' lawyer, Mary Chartier, said afterward that the sentence was not fair.

"An innocent woman was sentenced to jail today," Chartier said.

Klages, 65, says she first learned of Nassar's sexual abuse when a newspaper report was published in 2016, and maintains that she does not remember being told about Nassar's assaults more than two decades ago. She said she also sought counseling to try to remember and passed two polygraph tests. 

During the sentencing, Klages spoke to the judge and expressed sorrow for the young women who had been sexually abused by Nassar, along with their families. But she told the judge she did not remember.

"If it did occur, and I responded the way they said I did, I am truly horrified," Klages said through tears. "And I am so sorry. I cannot imagine that I would not take seriously the concerns raised ..."

She said she always prided herself on trying to protect gymnasts, at all costs. She also said she sent her own children and granddaughter to Nassar but in recent years, she said she has learned that he was a "predatory monster."

"I trusted him," said Klages. "I thought he was one of the most intelligent, caring and kind doctors I had ever dealt with ... . He had me completely fooled."

But Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Klages' statements are not true.

"The evidence clearly points to the fact that Ms. Klages was aware — for decades — of Larry Nassar’s actions," Nessel said. "She did nothing to protect the young women who were counting on her to stand up for them. Ms. Klages chose to remain silent at a time when doing the right thing should’ve motivated her to do the very opposite and speak up on behalf of the victims.

“Her inaction empowered Larry Nassar to continue committing his heinous crimes," Nessel continued, "and for her dishonesty, Ms. Klages will be forever tied to the trail of victims Nassar left behind.”

Chartier said she will appeal Klages' sentence.

Chartier said Klages doesn't remember being told about Nassar but understood she was being sentenced on the jury's verdict.

"She's a strong woman, she'll certainly be able to survive this," Chartier said.

California-based lawyer John Manley questioned the brevity of the sentence but said he was glad Klages got jail time. An advisory guideline prepared before her sentence recommended between 0-17 months.

"I thought the sentence was light given the harm done," said Manly, who represented 235 of 500 victims who sued MSU and settled for a historic $500 million. "The fact she got up there and still refuses to accept any responsibility for what she did, for lying about it and concealing and allowed her lawyers to maintain she didn’t remember, it's just reprehensible."

Klages' role with Nassar's crimes emerged in 2017, six months after Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast, publicly accused Nassar of sexual assault. At the time, Nassar was a respected osteopathic sports doctor at MSU and USA Gymnastics who treated some of the nation’s most prominent Olympic athletes.

Coaches and others referred athletes to him for pain relief that many understood to involve osteopathic manipulation near or inside the vagina, and sometimes near the breasts.

More than 200 women and girls shed their anonymity, showed their faces and gave their names as they delivered riveting impact statements in 2018. The testimonies of his abuse, and the impact it had on the young women's lives, occurred over nine days in Ingham and Eaton counties and were broadcast around the globe.

But the courthouse was dramatically different Tuesday. Only a handful of people attended the proceeding and everyone wore masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Boyce, along with another former gymnast who has remained anonymous, came forward in 2017 and said they told Klages about Nassar's behavior in 1997, when they were 16 and 14, respectively.

Klages allegedly brought several of Boyce’s fellow youth program gymnasts into her office and asked them if Nassar did the same to them, and one of them said he had done the same thing to her. She has said she thought Klages would help, but instead she felt humiliated by her.

Former youth gymnast Larissa Boyce makes a statement at the sentencing of former MSU Women's Gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages n court in Lansing, MI, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

Klages also allegedly told Boyce that she could file a complaint, but there would be serious consequences for Nassar and her.

Two detectives investigating how Nassar was able to abuse for so long interviewed Klages. Officials charged her with two counts of lying to a peace officer.

A jury found Klages guilty in February.

During Klages' sentencing, Boyce and the other woman gave victim impact statements.

"I truly had prayed and hoped that Kathie would own up to and admit her

mistake of believing a pedophile instead of two children 23 years ago, but that

did not happen," Boyce said. "She had every opportunity to tell the truth time and

again, especially in the last four years to support the girls and women who

had come forward, but she chose not to.

"She could have taken her knowledge and mistake to use it to teach the country and the world to always believe children when they disclose sexual assault. Instead, she

continued to be deceitful trying to protect herself and paint the picture that

the other gymnast and I were liars."

The other gymnast, known in court as RF, said Klages' response affected her profoundly.

“(It) caused devastation on my entire life, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially,” she said. “The first and only adult I had ever told just canceled all of my intuitions, that sexual abuse is real and painful and wrong. She silenced me not only when I was 14 years old, but for another 20 years.”

Denhollander said that had Klages acted, she could have stopped Nassar from sexually abusing scores of other young girls and women before he was stopped in 2016. 

"Kathie’s refusal to listen to Larissa and a second young gymnast in 1997 not only brutally damaged their bodies and minds, but allowed Larry to continue abusing hundreds of children for decades more," Denhollander said in a statement. "Her choice to call Larry, instead of the gymnasts’ parents, meant that Larry knew he was protected and would not be caught. It meant I walked in his door three years later and became his next victim."

Klages is the third former MSU official to be face criminal charges 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's onetime boss, former osteopathic medical school dean William Strampel, was sentenced to 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. But he was released four months early.  

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was charged last October with lying to police but a judge dismissed the case in May, saying prosecutors didn't present enough evidence. Attorney General Dana Nessel appealed the dismissal last month.

Nassar is serving a de facto life prison sentence after being convicted in two state courts of sexual assault and in federal court of possessing child pornography.