High court lets stand dismissal of MSU gymnastics coach's conviction

Beth LeBlanc Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a lower court decision that overturned charges against former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages connected to the Larry Nassar sexual misconduct scandal.

In a brief order Wednesday, the high court said it was not "persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court."

The decision came nine months after the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated Klages' conviction on charges that she lied to police during an investigation into the sexual assaults committed by Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor. The appellate panel found her statements about not remembering a 1997 conversation were not material to the investigation.

Former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages listens to testimony in Ingham County Circuit Court on Feb. 11, 2020. A Michigan appeals court panel vacated a conviction of Klages on charges that she lied to police during an investigation into the sexual assaults committed by Larry Nassar.

Klages' lawyer, Mary Chartier, said she and her client are "extremely pleased" and called the investigation leading to the charges a "sham" attempt to punish Klages for Nassar's actions.

"The government utterly ignored the fact that there wasn’t any plausible evidence of a causal link between Mrs. Klages’ stated lack of memory of an alleged conversation in 1997 and its investigation into Larry Nassar in 2018," Chartier wrote.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office said Wednesday the court's decision "leaves in place a dangerous precedent for prosecutors."

"In my view, the jury rightly convicted Klages of making false statements that were material to the investigation conducted by my department’s special agents," Nessel said. "Absent review by the Michigan Supreme Court, the damaging ruling from the Court of Appeals has the potential to affect all future police investigations.”    

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 Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor. Two gymnasts testified they told Klages about Nassar's abuse in 1997. 

But Court of Appeals judges Elizabeth Gleicher and Cynthia Stephens wrote in a 2-1 opinion in December that a statement Klages made to police regarding a 1997 conversation, whether it was true or false, was immaterial to the 2018 investigation.

Former MSU gymnast Larissa Boyce had testified during Klages' trial that she was 16 in 1997 when she told Klages that Nassar was sexually abusing her while treating her injuries, but Klages failed to act.

Two other MSU employees were charged in the fallout of Nassar's serial sexual abuse of students and athletes, for which the former doctor is serving a de facto life prison sentence.

Former osteopathic medical school dean William Strampel served about eight months in jail for willful neglect of duty linked to his supervision of Nassar and misconduct in office related to inappropriate comments he made to female students.

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.

Nessel appealed the dismissal, but a unanimous Court of Appeals panel in December upheld the dismissal of charges. Nessel did not appeal Simon's case up to the Michigan Supreme Court.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com