Nassar hearing: new witnesses approved, trial will stay in Ingham county
The federal child pornography charges against ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar will not be included as forms of evidence in his Ingham County trial, it was determined in court Friday.
The charges, which Nassar has pleaded guilty to in federal court, will not be presented as forms of evidence to the Ingham County jury, as a motion to use them as forms of evidence was denied by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
During a court hearing Friday, 13 motions filed Oct. 20 — filed by both Nassar's defense and by the prosecution from the Michigan Attorney General's Office — were discussed. The motion to exclude the child pornography charges is just one of these 13 motions.
In denying the motion, Aquilina said admitting the child pornography charges as evidence would unfairly prejudice the jury.
As soon as the jury heard of these charges — the receipt, possession and destruction of more than 37,000 images of child pornography — the jury would "stop listening" and automatically convict him, Aquilina said. Ultimately, those charges aren't at "the heart" of the Ingham County case.
The denial of this motion in no way changes Nassar's plea in federal court, it simply states this evidence can't be given to the jury in the Ingham County case unless the defense opens the door to do so.
Other decisions made during the hearing include granting additional testimonies from six women and excluding findings from an investigation from MSU's Title IX office.
The motion to admit the testimony from six women, ranging from local gymnasts to gold medal gymnasts, was granted. It will allow the six additional women, who are not already involved in the case, to testify as witnesses.
According to the prosecution, the women all allege Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment, a narrative seen widely among alleged victims.
Two of these women allege they were under 13 years old when Nassar digitally penetrated them and four allege they were between the ages of 13 and 16.
Nassar's attorneys sought to exclude these testimonies, and argued in a motion that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and prosecuting attorneys should be held in contempt for violating the court's gag order.
The gag order limits what alleged victims and their attorneys can say publicly about the case and their personal experiences. The defense argued Schuette and attorneys waited to name the six women as witnesses until after some of them made additional public comments.
Ultimately, the motion to hold Schuette in contempt and to exclude the six testimonies was denied.
In another motion, both the defense and the prosecution stipulated to excluding the findings of a report from MSU's Title IX office that sought to investigate potential Title IX violations from Nassar.
In other words, both sides have agreed to exclude information on MSU's investigation into whether or not Nassar followed Title IX policy during his time at MSU.
The reasoning lies in the standard of proof. MSU's Title IX office investigates and makes determinations based on the preponderance of evidence, not based on proving an accusation beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, they'll exclude MSU's findings, but will include statements made related to the investigation from testimonies.
A number of proposed motions were denied, too. Among those: a motion to push the trial to another date, a motion to change the trial's location, a motion to offer evidence of past sexual history of an alleged victim and a motion to quash four of the charges against Nassar.
The defense filed the motion to adjourn the trial until a later date. Nassar's attorneys said they had recently received thousands of pages — more than 57,000 — of new information to review, with more information coming. They hoped adjourning the trial would allow them more time to review this information.
Aquilina denied the motion, stating that the trial would move forward regardless of the amount of information they have to review.
“I’m not delaying the trial," Aquilina said. "Stay up all night if you have to. ... We're wasting time, we're wasting money."
The trial has already been delayed following the consolidation of Nassar's two separate Ingham County cases into one case, something Aquilina never supported.
The motion marks the defense's second attempt to push back Nassar's trial date. They filed a motion on Oct. 13 to adjourn the trial until after Nassar's federal sentencing, arguing media interest surrounding the federal sentencing — scheduled for the same week as Nassar's Ingham County trial jury selection — would not allow a fair trial.
Aquilina denied that motion, stating she was "shocked and dismayed at this request," citing the jury's instructions to ignore media reports.
A motion filed by the defense to move the trial to another county was also denied. The defense argued Nassar's federal sentencing will lead to heightened publicity surrounding Nassar and claimed that after such intense media coverage, a jury in Ingham County couldn't remain impartial.
Aquilina denied the motion, stating not enough citizens pay attention to news coverage for it to make a difference.
"This community will decide what happens here," she said.
The next denied motion attempted to offer an alleged victim's past sexual history as evidence during the trial. The defense argued "Victim C," as she is identified in the case, should testify about any previous reported sexual assault prior to Nassar.
"Victim C" is known publicly as Rachael Denhollander. The defense argued Denhollander has been a public "ringleader" in the case and has misguided many into "believing" they were sexually abused by Nassar.
In response, the prosecution argued this motion was essentially victim blaming and attacking Denhollander's credibility.
Aquilina denied the motion, citing a Michigan rape shield law that protects alleged victims from having to present information about previous sexual history during trial.
A motion to quash four of the charges against Nassar was also denied. Nassar's attorneys wanted the charges dropped because they are "too vague." Aquilina said the argument "fell short."
Nassar is accused of sexually abusing over 140 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. He was arrested in December 2016 on charges of possessing “at least 37,000” images of child pornography to which he has pleaded guilty. His sentencing for these charges is set for Dec. 7.
Nassar additionally faces criminal sexual assault charges in Ingham County and Eaton County. Trials for these charges will begin in early 2018. He is also a defendant in a number of civil cases, many alongside MSU.