Larry Nassar’s attorneys Shannon Smith and Matt Newburg talk after the sentencing for Larry Nassar in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 7. Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal
Former MSU, USA Gymnastics doctor still awaits sentences in sexual assault cases
GRAND RAPIDS – Larry Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor whose work took him to multiple Olympic games, was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges to which he’s admitted.
“He has demonstrated that he should never again have access to children,” U.S. District Judge Janet Neff said as she imposed a sentence that went beyond guidelines calling for 22 to 27 years in prison.
He was sentenced to 20 years on each of three counts, to be served consecutively. Neff also stated that his federal time would be served consecutive to his state sentences for sexual assault. He has pleaded guilty to 10 sexual assault charges and will be sentenced next month.
The courtroom was filled to capacity, including several victims of his admitted sexual assault, their relatives and their attorneys. Several victims said after the sentencing they were still trying to process their feelings after the effective life sentence Neff imposed, but it was a step toward justice.
“I was blown away with what the judge did today, and I thought it was very fitting,” Larissa Boyce, who had first raised concerns about Nassar to an MSU coach in 1997, said at a news conference after the hearing. “I can’t thank her enough for the things that she said.”
Larissa Boyce addresses Michigan State University failings on Larry Nassar following his federal sentencing on child pornography charges Thursday, Dec. 7. Justin A. Hinkley/Lansing State Journal
In court filings last week, Nassar’s attorneys had asked Neff to show leniency, saying the doctor had worked toward redemption by helping fellow inmates and taking Bible classes since his arrest nearly a year ago.
And Nassar, speaking in a barely audible voice from the courtroom podium, told Neff on Thursday he’d long battled an addiction he likened to alcoholism or drug addiction. His shame kept him from asking for help, he said. He said he hoped his crimes would educate people about the problem to prevent others from being hurt in the future.
“You go back and you wonder how I got down this path to begin with,” he said. “I really did try to be a good person. I really did try to help people … I hope one day I can be forgiven, and I’m going to take every day of your sentence to try to better myself.”
But Neff said Nassar’s crimes hurt so many people on so many levels, from the unnamed children in the pictures who feel assaulted every day knowing someone somewhere could be viewing their bodies, to the women Nassar assaulted who now struggle to trust doctors and with their own sense of self-worth.
The judge said she said she’d sentenced defendants in child pornography cases for a decade but Nassar was “unique” in the sheer volume of pornography he’d collected and the brazen way he assaulted women during medical appointments with parents in the room.
Former MSU athlete Tiffany Thomas speaks about her experience reporting Larry Nassar to MSU officials. Beth LeBlanc/Lansing State Journal
“You have to wonder whether he felt he was omnipotent, whether he felt he was getting away with something so cleverly,” Neff said as several victims and family members the room started to cry. “I am a mom of two daughters. I cannot imagine that kind of situation.”
From the archives: Nassar pleads guilty to federal child porn charges
Federal prosecutors had argued for the maximum 60 years, saying Nassar “poses an immense risk to the community” and quoting one victim who said the 54-year-old “will not hesitate to reoffend” if he’s ever freed. Neff agreed.
Nassar pleaded guilty in July to three federal charges after investigators said he possessed at least 37,000 graphic videos and images of child pornography, including images of prepubescent children engaged in sex acts.
He also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for trying to destroy the evidence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Nassar paid to have his work laptop wiped clean and threw away hard drives containing the pornography. Investigators were only able to obtain those hard drives at Nassar’s Holt property because the garbage truck happened to be running late that day, according to court records.
Some of the videos appeared to show Nassar assaulting young girls in a pool, investigators said. As part of a deal with federal prosecutors to obtain his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed they would not charge him with alleged sexual exploitation of children in relation to four reported victims.
Thursday’s sentencing ends one of three criminal cases against Nassar. He’s also pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in both Ingham and Eaton counties and could get to up to life in prison in those cases when he’s sentenced next month.
In still-pending lawsuits related to Nassar’s admitted crimes, more than 140 women or girls have said Nassar assaulted them, often during medical appointments.
Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and Twistars, a Dimondale gymnastics club where Nassar often worked, are named as defendants in the lawsuits.
Several of Nassar’s accusers continue to demand that others at MSU be held accountable. Five of them, who have united under the social media campaign #MeTooMSU and are part of the lawsuits, said at a news conference near the courthouse that Nassar’s sentence shouldn’t be the end.
Jessica Smith, who said Nassar assaulted her when she was 17, said she was grateful for Thursday’s sentence but was “not comforted” that only one person went to jail while others at MSU celebrate football and basketball.
“He is not the only one that allowed this to happen,” she said. “Where is the justice being served for everyone that allowed that to happen?”
LSJ Editorial Board: “Lou Anna Simon must resign as Michigan State president”
Nassar, led in cuffs out of the courtroom at the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building in downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday, was for decades an esteemed sports medicine doctor. USA Gymnastics sent him to almost every summer Olympic Games, from 1996 in Atlanta — where he was photographed in the iconic image of an injured Kerri Strug being helped off a platform — to London in 2012.
He started working at MSU, where he had earned his osteopathic medicine degree, in 1997.
His public downfall began in September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star named Nassar in a report on USA Gymastics’ lackluster response to allegations of assault. Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of assault, was in the courtroom on Thursday.
The State Journal reported that between 1997 and 2015, at least seven women or girls say they raised concerns about Nassar’s actions to coaches, trainers, police or MSU officials.
LSJ investigation: “Larry Nassar and a career filled with ‘silenced’ voices”
The IndyStar report: “MSU doctor accused of abusing USA gymnasts”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is prosecuting Nassar on the state charges in Ingham and Eaton counties, earlier this week asked MSU to release the findings of its internal investigation into the way university officials handled the allegations. On Wednesday, he refused to say whether or not he’ll independently investigate MSU’s handling of Nassar.
Andrew Birge, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, declined to say at a press conference Thursday whether he will investigate MSU.
“Today we’re here to talk about the reckoning for Mr. Nassar,” Birge said. “I think this case also tells us that anyone who has information about a crime should let us know.”
MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap attended Birge’s press conference but declined to take questions.
Nassar left USA Gymastics in 2015. MSU fired him in September 2016. He lost his medical license earlier this year.