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Larry Nassar sentencing: ‘I just signed your death warrant’

LANSING, Mich. — After an extraordinary seven-day hearing that drew more than 150 young women to speak out publicly about sexual abuse they said was committed by Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former team doctor for the American gymnastics team, a judge sentenced him on Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison.

He had faced a minimum term of 25 to 40 years.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who had opened her courtroom to all the young women who wanted to address Nassar directly, and forced him to listen when he pleaded to make it stop, handed down the sentence, saying to him, “You’ve done nothing to deserve to walk outside a prison again.”


“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” she said, and noting the length of the sentence, added, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Hours after the sentencing, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon said she was resigning amid mounting pressure over the way the university handled the Nassar case. Nassar spent decades on the university’s faculty and treated its athletes.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Nassar apologized and, occasionally turning to the young women in the courtroom, said: “Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.” Several women sobbed in the gallery as he spoke.

Just before sentencing Nassar, the judge read parts of a letter he submitted to the court last week. In the letter, he complained about his treatment in a separate federal child pornography case and wrote that his accusers in this case were seeking news media attention and money. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he wrote in the letter. There were audible gasps from the gallery when the judge read the line.


Nassar, 54, was accused of molesting girls for years under the guise of giving them medical treatment. Some were as young as 6. Many of them were Olympic gymnasts. In November, he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing seven girls. He had already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography convictions.

The case and its ramifications are far from over. It has ignited outrage in the sports world and beyond, leading to the resignation this week of the chairman and several board members of the governing body for gymnastics in the United States, USA Gymnastics. Last week, the organization cut ties with Karolyi Ranch, the training center at a remote Texas ranch where some of the abuse occurred.

Also, the NCAA on Tuesday formally opened an investigation into Michigan State University’s conduct. Michigan lawmakers had voted overwhelmingly for a resolution that sought removal of the president over allegations that the school missed chances to stop Nassar.

A lawsuit has been filed by scores of victims against Nassar, USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body, and Michigan State.

The sentencing hearing itself, streamed live on the internet, garnered much attention for extending several days to allow for victim impact statements from girls and women who said they were molested by Nassar. Many of the victims had not previously identified themselves. Initial plans to conclude after four days were altered as more women came forward.

Aquilina was a fierce advocate for the victims, often praising or consoling them after their statements. The hours and hours of victims speaking candidly about their abuse unexpectedly turned the hearing into a cathartic forum. Dozens of women who had remained silent came forward with accounts of abuse.


Among those who have accused him are the Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman of Needham, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, and Simone Biles.

The final three victims spoke on Wednesday. Rachael Denhollander, who was one of the first women to come forward with public accusations against Nassar, was the last to speak at his sentencing hearing.

“Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser,” she said. “One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault.”

Aquilina praised Denhollander for opening the floodgates. “You are the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom,” she said.

The sentence carries a minimum 40 years imprisonment, adhering to the terms of the plea agreement, but the judge advised that should Nassar improbably live longer than any human has, and come up for parole after serving the federal and state sentences, his time in prison should extend to 175 years.

Nassar also pleaded guilty in November on three sexual abuse counts in a neighboring county and that sentencing is later this month.

The statements by the young women were forceful and at times anguished.

“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice,” Raisman said in court on Friday. “Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only just beginning to use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve: a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”


Nassar objected to the many statements, saying that Aquilina had turned the hearing into a “media circus.” The judge dismissed his complaint.

Moments after the judge delivered her sentence, the US Olympic Committee issued a statement calling on the entire gymnastics board to resign and announcing other steps to investigate Nassar’s conduct and repair the damage done to the sport. The Olympic committee’s chief executive, Scott Blackmun, also apologized for not attending the hearing, after gymnasts took the USOC to task for failing to protect them.