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29 victims give emotional statements on first day of Nassar's sentencing

January 16, 2018
Larry Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina (above) and Shannon Smith, one of Nassar's attorneys, are seated at the podium during Nassar's sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Larry Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina (above) and Shannon Smith, one of Nassar's attorneys, are seated at the podium during Nassar's sentencing hearing Tuesday. —
Photo by Riley Murdock | The State News

The courtroom was silent when ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar entered, save for the shutter of cameras.

The courtroom remained silent, enraptured, as victim after victim shared her story.

Nassar was silent as his victims spoke, hand on his face, eyes closed or toward the ground, rarely looking at each of the women who provided a victim impact statement.

The sentencing of Nassar for seven first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in Ingham County began Tuesday morning at Veterans Memorial Courthouse in downtown Lansing.

Twenty-nine women and girls read victim impact statements that detailed Nassar’s abuse at the hearing. A total of 98 women and girls will address the court in person or through statements throughout the week, Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said.

Most victims on Tuesday chose to be identified publicly. Some chose to remain anonymous. Some, fighting  emotions, addressed the court and Nassar personally. Some wrote statements read by loved ones or others. 

Some said they lost loved ones because of Nassar. Donna Markham told the story of her daughter, Chelsea, who she lost to suicide in 2009 after years of trauma stemming from Nassar's abuse.

Kyle Stephens, known in legislation as "Victim ZA" or "family friend," was the first to provide a statement and was the only non-patient victim to do so.

Stephens said her family was friends with Nassar and his wife, Stefanie. Nassar began to abuse Stephens when she was 6. She did not tell her parents until she was 12, and she said her parents decided to believe Nassar's side of the story.

Every time she fought with her father, he told her she needed to apologize to Nassar, until shortly before she went to college.

"Larry Nassar's actions had already caused me significant anguish, but I hurt worse as I watched my father realize what he had put me through," Stephens said. "My father and I did our best to patch up our tattered relationship before he committed suicide in 2016."

Most of the women said they had issues trusting people after Nassar's abuse. Some said they had issues forming or maintaining relationships. Many recommended the maximum sentence to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

Some were traumatized as children. Others did not understand what had happened to them until they were adults. 

Ashley Erickson, a patient of Nassar's from 1999 until 2016, said she was finally ready to confront Nassar after years of abuse.

“Rather than someone that I used to trust, I’m looking at a monster that took advantage of me," Erickson said, addressing Nassar. “Ever since I realized what you were actually doing to me, it has been hell ... I have no trust left for anyone, because you took that away.

“Why on earth would I ever trust anyone again?”

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Throughout the testimonies, Nassar barely looked his victims in the eye. One woman, however, commanded his attention.

Victim 125, as she was anonymously identified, claimed to be one of the earliest victims of Nassar. Despite remaining anonymous, she requested Nassar be given her name.

Victim 125 spoke from a narrative of Nassar's early years, before he had become a full doctor. She said Nassar earned her trust, and that of her mother, with his kindness and attentiveness.

"And yet at some point you began pushing boundaries in your own terribly, terribly troubled way," Victim 125 said. "None of us will ever, ever, ever know when or where you started abusing children. Was that always your plan when you found yourself attracted to the sport of gymnastics as early as high school? Had you abused anyone before then? Was the 'good guy' persona just an act? Were you building our trust for a reason, so that you could perpetrate and penetrate later on? And most importantly, who was that first girl? Am I her? Do you even remember?" 

Victim 125 said she was 12 and Nassar was 28 when he penetrated her at his apartment. It was 1992. He was in medical school at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, she said. She told Nassar his legacy will be that he is, "quite possibly the greatest perpetrator of sexual abuse of all time."

Aquilina spoke to each victim individually following their statements, offering words of support and addressing individual concerns. As Nassar had pleaded guilty, Aquilina made no concessions to partiality, condemning him harshly and often.

"Our constitution does not allow cruel and unusual punishment, but if it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all these beautiful souls, these young women, in their childhoods, I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others," Aquilina said.

On Tuesday, 29 women and girls shared their stories. They are far from the last who will. Aquilina said during the hearing that Nassar's sentencing will continue until all victims who want to make their voices clear have that opportunity, even if the hearings continue into next week.

In addition to pleading guilty to seven counts in Ingham County, he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County. He also pleaded guilty to three federal charges related to child pornography and was sentenced to the maximum of 60 years in prison on those charges. He is accused of sexually abusing more than 140 victims and is a defendant in nine lawsuits, all of which also list MSU, MSU's Board of Trustees and USA Gymnastics as defendants.

The first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges carry a sentence ranging from 25-40 years to life in prison, per charge. The Eaton County sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Read our live coverage of Tuesday's hearing on Twitter below.


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