Court vacates conviction of former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The Michigan Court of Appeals on Tuesday vacated the conviction of former Michigan State University gymnastic coach Kathie Klages for lying to police after concluding her statements about not remembering a 1997 conversation were not material to a criminal investigation.

Klages was found guilty by a jury in February 2020 of two counts of lying to a peace officer during the 2018 investigation into the sexual assaults committed over decades by former MSU and USAG doctor Larry Nassar. Two gymnasts testified they told Klages about Nassar's abuse in 1997. 

Former MSU women's gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages, center, listens in court in Lansing,  Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 with attorneys Mary Chartier, left, and Takura Nyamfukudza. Klages was convicted on two counts of lying to police in connection with the Larry Nassar abuse case.

Judges Elizabeth Gleicher and Cynthia Stephens wrote in the 2-1 opinion that "No evidence supported that Klages’s false statement regarding the 1997 conversations was material to the criminal investigation conducted in 2018. We vacate her convictions and remand for dismissal of the charges. 

Judge Stephen Borrello dissented, arguing Klages' conviction should stand because the evidence submitted at trial was sufficient. "I respectfully dissent from the majority’s erroneous conclusion... The error, I believe, lies in the majority’s assertion there was no evidence that defendant’s “false statement regarding the 1997 conversations was material to the criminal investigation conducted in 2018.”  

The judges didn’t determine whether Klages's statements were truthful.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk in August of 2020 sentenced Klages to 90 days in jail and 18 months probation. She served 50 days, according to her attorney, Mary Chartier.

Klages could not be immediately reached but Chartier said she was thrilled with the court's decision.

"We are very happy Mrs. Klages has been vindicated," said Chartier. "It's been a long road, but she is very, very happy that this is the result. This is a prosecution that the attorney general should have never taken on. This was, I believe more politically motivated ... ." 

Then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette began an investigation into MSU in 2018.

The two witnesses were former MSU gymnast Larissa Boyce and a woman who declined to reveal her identity. Boyce testified during Klages' trial that she was 16 in 1997 when she told Klages that Nassar was sexually abusing her while treating her injuries. 

She testified that she told Klages that he was sticking his fingers inside her and making her uncomfortable. Many gymnasts said that they could have been spared if Klages had acted when Boyce came forward.  

Boyce told The Detroit News in a text that she needed time to process everything before she answered questions. 

But she posted to Twitter after hearing the court's decision.

"I feel sick," Boyce wrote. "What was the point of any of this? How does this deter enablers. This is wrong in so many ways…"

California-based attorney John Manly, who represented dozens of other women molested by Nassar, called the court's decision wrong and said he hoped Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“This erroneous ruling represents a slap in the face to hundreds of women who were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar," said Manly. "Klages was the head coach of the women’s gymnastics team through much of Nassar’s 30-year reign of terror at MSU. She was one of his closest friends and most prolific enablers. Klages continued to defend Nassar after he was arrested, even asking his victims to send him a sympathy card!

"Make no mistake, this ruling gives a green light to other enablers of sexual assault," Manly continued. "It tells them that if you protect a molester and lie about it to the police you will not be held criminally responsible. This cannot stand."

Lynsey Mukomel, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, said a decision has not been made. 

"Right now we're reviewing the ruling," said Mukomel.

Klages was one of three former MSU officials to face criminal charges stemming from the Nassar scandal.

Nassar's one-time 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. He was released four months early.  

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was charged in 2019 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 in August 2020.

Nassar is serving a de facto life prison sentence after pleading guilty in Ingham and Eaton counties to sexual assault charges and in federal court to possessing child pornography.

The Associated Press contributed.