'Enjoy hell:' Doctor's sentence next for assaulting gymnasts
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — After listening to the riveting pleas of more than 150 victims, a judge is set to sentence a Michigan doctor who parlayed his reputation and personal charm into years of sexual abuse by molesting Olympic gymnasts and other young female athletes instead of solving their sports injuries.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hear from a few more victims and then send Larry Nassar to prison Wednesday, the seventh day of a remarkable hearing that has given the girls, young women and their parents a chance to confront him in court. He faces a minimum prison term of 25 to 40 years but it could go higher.
Among those expected to speak on the last day: Rachael Denhollander, a Kentucky woman who contacted Michigan State University police in 2016 after reading reports about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct. Nassar worked at Michigan State and also was the national gymnastics squad's doctor.
Nassar, 54, eventually pleaded guilty to assaulting seven people in the Lansing area, including Denhollander, but the sentencing hearing has been open to anyone who said they were a victim. His accusers said he would use his ungloved hands to penetrate them, often without explanation, while they were on a table seeking help for various injuries.
The accusers, many of whom were children, said they trusted Nassar to care for them properly, were in denial about what was happening or were afraid to speak up. He sometimes used a sheet or his body to block the view of any parent in the room.
"I'd been told during my entire gymnastics career to not question authority," a former elite gymnast, Isabell Hutchins, said Tuesday.
The judge is likely to be unsparing in her treatment of Nassar. Aquilina has praised the victims who have appeared in her court since Jan. 16, calling them "sister survivors," while also assuring them that their perpetrator will pay. The women have included Olympians Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.
"Your words are vital. They are as strong as your martial arts," Aquilina told Christina Barba, who has known Nassar for decades and practices karate. "They will take him down quicker and cleaner than any kick you've got."
Hutchins and Mattie Larson, a former national gymnast, talked about how Nassar won their allegiance with candy, Olympic trinkets and encouraging words while they were under constant scrutiny from their demanding coaches.
Brooke Hylek, a gymnast who plans to compete in college, heaped scorn on Nassar.
"I cannot believe I ever trusted you and I will never forgive you," she said Tuesday. "I'm happy you will be spending the rest of your life in prison. Enjoy hell by the way."
Emily Morales had a softer message.
"I want you to apologize to me right here," the 18-year-old told Nassar. "I want to forgive you, but I also want to hear you tell me that you regret all the hurting you caused."
He did. She replied with, "Thank you."
Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week on more assault convictions in Eaton County, Michigan.