February 5, 2018 / 10:43 AM / 6 months ago

Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor gets up to 125 more years in prison for abuse

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (Reuters) - Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison on Monday for molesting young female gymnasts, capping weeks of horrifying testimony from nearly 200 victims about his decades of abuse.

Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Nassar, who previously received a 40-to-175-year sentence in Ingham County, Michigan, for sexual assault, was sentenced in neighboring Eaton County on Monday on a second set of charges. He is also serving a 60-year federal term for child pornography convictions.

The doctor offered a brief apology to his victims on Monday, saying, “The visions of your testimonies will forever be present in my thoughts.”

But Eaton County Circuit Judge Janice Cunningham said Nassar had again suggested in a pre-sentencing interview with authorities that his conduct was legitimate medical treatment.

“I am not convinced that you truly understand that what you did was wrong, and the devastating impact that you have had on the victims, their families and friends,” she told Nassar. “Clearly you are in denial. You don’t get it.”

As Cunningham delivered Nassar’s sentence on Monday, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to make her allegations of abuse public in 2016, smiled broadly and squeezed her husband’s hand. After Nassar was led out in handcuffs, a parade of victims lined up to hug and thank Denhollander.

“I’m just ready for it to be over,” Bailey Lorencen, who was abused by Nassar as a preteen gymnast, told Reuters. “It’s finally done.”

“SOULS OF LITTLE CHILDREN”

Athletes were drawn to Nassar for treatment due to his reputation as the go-to doctor for Olympic gymnasts. He disguised his digital penetration of victims as “intravaginal adjustment,” a legitimate treatment sometimes used to relieve pain.

In both Ingham and Eaton counties, girls and women gave wrenching and powerful accounts of how Nassar abused them, sometimes with their own parents present in the exam room. Many said they spoke out to heal their own wounds and prevent future sexual abuse, many choosing to testify only after watching fellow survivors express a sense of catharsis.

Friday’s hearing was briefly interrupted when Randall Margraves, whose three daughters were all Nassar victims, tried to attack Nassar in the courtroom before being tackled by officers.

Prosecutors have said there are approximately 265 known victims in total, including Olympic gold medalists like McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman.

The scandal surrounding Nassar has reverberated far beyond the sports world, sparking various investigations into why the U.S. Olympic Committee, sport governing body USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University, where he also worked, failed to investigate complaints about him going back years.

High-level officials at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State have been forced to resign in recent weeks. The U.S. Olympic Committee has launched an investigation into its own conduct as well as that of USA Gymnastics.

Cunningham noted the institutional failures that permitted Nassar to continue molesting girls even after several victims allegedly told coaches, trainers, Michigan State and a local police department about his abuse.

“It is unfathomable how many victims would have been spared had authorities acted upon the complaints received years ago,” she said.

Many of the victims have filed lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, accusing them of ignoring complaints against Nassar. Denhollander harshly criticized the university, which has moved to dismiss the litigation on grounds the school cannot be held legally liable for Nassar’s actions.

“They have put institutional protectionism ahead and above the souls of little children,” she said.

The school has expressed sympathy for the victims and vowed to cooperate with an investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office.

Larissa Boyce told her coach in 1997 that she believed Nassar’s actions were wrong but she was warned to keep silent. She had been convinced his treatment was legitimate until the wave of allegations made her realize she had been right.

“It took so long to get here because people don’t want to believe little girls,” she told Reuters after the sentencing. “It speaks to the power of power and friendship to protect criminals. Nobody wanted to believe Larry was like this. Now everyone knows.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Hay

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