Judge at Nassar sentencing: ‘I’ve just signed your death warrant’


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A former sports doctor who sexually abused his patients under the guise of medical care is getting more time in prison.

After more than six days of listening to victim impact statements, Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said it was her “honor and privilege” to sentence the 54-year-old Larry Nassar to 40 years to 175 years in prison, which will run consecutively with his 60-year sentence for federal child pornography charges.

“I’ve just signed your death warrant,” she said.

She also ordered restitution based on what the attorneys decide.

>>Photos: Larry Nassar sentencing

The courtroom erupted in applause and supporters and survivors hugged as Nassar was led out the door.

Nassar was a well-regarded sports doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics for some two decades. Scores of girls and women — including area student athletes and U.S. Olympians — say he sexually assaulted them under the guise of medical treatment. He pleaded guilty in November to sexually assaulting several girls at his home, his office at MSU and an area gymnastics club.  All but one of them was a gymnast.

Before learning his punishment, Nassar voiced words of apology.

“Your words these past several days… has shaken me to my core,” Nassar said, turning to his victims. “I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

However, before handing down Nassar’s sentence, Aquilina also read an excerpt of the letter he sent her during the hearing, in which he continued to call the sex assaults medical treatment.

“They feel like I broke their trust. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” Aquilina read from the letter, in which Nassar called it a “nightmare” listening to the “made-up stories” that he claimed were “fabricated to sensationalize this.”

The judge also asked Nassar if he wanted to withdraw his plea, after reading a portion of the letter where he claimed he was manipulated by the attorney general’s office. He said no, but wouldn’t admit guilt.

“You do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again,” Aquilina said.

A total of 156 girls, women and supporters faced Nassar in court or had their statements read during the six days of his sentencing, including two from Kalamazoo on the final day of the hearing. It was an unprecedented number of victim impact statements as Aquilina committed to hearing from any victims who wanted to speak.

The Kalamazoo native who was the first to push for criminal charges against Nassar was the last survivor to speak. Rachael Denhollander said she was barely 15 years old when the sex abuse started.

“I thought daily about the little girls walking in his office, and I wondered if it would ever, ever end,” said Denhollander, who is now a mother of three children, including two daughters.

Denhollander also talked about the day she said Nassar brought his daughter into his office so she could hold her.

“You knew how much I loved children, and you used your own daughter to manipulate me. Every time I held my babies, I prayed to God you would leave your abuse in the exam room and not take it home to the little girl born with black hair just like her daddy,” she added.

Denhollander also took aim at USA Gymnastics, talking about a culture of sexual abuse involving coaches.

“I thought I could trust the adults around me. My misplaced trust in my physician and my misplaced trust in the adults around me were wielded like a weapon. And it cost me dearly. And it follows me everywhere,” she said.

>>App users: Watch the survivors’ response here.

MSU wasn’t spared, either.

“MSU, we’ve been telling you our stories for 18 months and you have yet to answer a single question I have asked,” said Denhollander, who accused the school of playing word games.

“The reason that everyone who heard about Larry’s abuse did not believe it, is because they did not listen. They did not listen in 1997, or 1998, or 1999, or 2000, or 2004, or 2014. No one knew, according to your definition of “know,” because no one handled the reports of abuse properly. Victims were silenced, intimidated, repeatedly told it was medical treatment, and forced to go back for continued sexual assault,” she said.

“It leaves me terrified for the little girls of the future, who we are here to protect,” Denhollander added about MSU’s response.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned Wednesday night, saying in her resignation letter that “blame is inevitable.”

“As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” her statement continued. “I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a resolution 96-11 calling for Simon’s resignation or for the school’s Board of Trustees to remove her. It’s important to note the resolution doesn’t carry any enforcement power; it’s a symbolic move.

Several individual legislators, the MSU student body government and the student newspaper called for Simon’s resignation last week. On Friday, the Board of Trustees said publicly she still had its support.

MSU Trustee Dianne Byrum released a statement Wednesday calling for Simon’s immediate resignation, saying, “it is clear that the public has lost confidence in the current administration of Michigan State University, and changes are needed to move the university forward.”

The Associated Press reported Wednesday afternoon that MSU said Nassar’s sentence is an “important step toward justice.” Spokesman Jason Cody called Nassar’s crimes “horrific and repugnant.”

The NCAA is investigating the way the university handled the situation, as is the Michigan attorney general.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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