LANSING, Mich. — Over the seven days of his sentencing hearing, as 168 victims who had morphed into survivors detailed each pitiful, painful one of his actions, Larry Nassar was repeatedly called a coward.
A coward for preying on little girls and trusting parents. A coward for turning his medical license into a tool for sexual abuse. A coward for using the desperation of the injured as an access point. A coward for draping himself in Olympic red, white and blue, and Michigan State green and white.
Even a coward for how this once confident, personable man would sit slumped over and unshaven in court, lacking the decency or shame to hear the truth like a grown man as heroic women stood in front of him and called him out.
And so, he would again reveal himself here Wednesday, at the end of this extraordinary week-plus hearing, at the end of his prolific reign of terror. Offered a chance to address Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, his victims and his own depravity, Nassar read a few prepared remarks and tried to portray himself in the best light imaginable.
“There are no words that describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred,” Nassar said, saying that hearing from his victims had “shaken” him. “I also recognize that what I’m feeling pales in comparison to the pain, trauma and emotional destruction that all of you endured.”
Propped up behind the bench, staring down on this shell of a man, Judge Aquilina was unimpressed.
This, she knew, was still an act, still Manipulative Larry, still Coward Larry.
Aquilina pulled out a letter that Nassar had sent her last week, six pages of single spaced arrogance and evil. She previously revealed that Nassar had warned that he was worried about “my ability … to face witnesses,” suggesting hearing about his crimes was too much for … him.
Now, there was more. Now, there was the real Nassar. In front of everyone, he tried to appease. In that letter, penned in the despair and darkness of a jail cell, he had told his truth, the truth of an unrepentant monster. He was, he said in the letter, actually innocent, a misunderstood doctor who pleaded guilty merely because the world was stacked against him.
The 60 years he was already sentenced to for child pornography charges were overblown, he claimed, the result of having that material a mere four months back in 2004.
“Not proper, appropriate, fair,” Nassar wrote, words that caused the packed court room at the Ingham County Courthouse to gasp as Aquilina read them.
As for these first-degree criminal sexual assault cases, the seven he pleaded guilty to as part of a global resolution, let alone the parade of women who through toughness and tears revealed their trauma and confronted their abuser? It was all just a misunderstanding, all just legitimate medical treatment he doled out as a caring doctor to injured young athletes, mostly gymnasts.
“I was a good doctor,” Nassar claimed. ” … The media convinced them that everything I did was wrong and bad. They feel I broke their trust. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
The courtroom erupted.
“It is just a complete nightmare,” Nassar wrote. “The stories that are being fabricated to sensationalize this.”
Soon Aquilina stopped reading. She threw the letter down in disgust and leaned back in her chair. There was clearly more in the letter. She said she didn’t want to further traumatize the victims. She did want to expose him for everything he was, though. She did want to make sure no one had an iota of sympathy or hope for the soul of Larry Nassar.
“Would you like to withdraw your plea?” Aquilina asked him, contempt dripping from the question, directly challenging a man who runs from such conflict.
“No, your honor,” Nassar replied weakly.
“Because you are guilty, aren’t you?” Aquilina said. He didn’t respond. “Are you guilty, sir?” she asked again.
“I’ve said my plea, exactly,” Nassar said.
The unflappable judge, a child of immigrants, a veteran of the Army National Guard, the mother of five, was done with Larry Nassar, was done with any semblance that what stood in front of her was worthy of a modicum of respect.
“It is my privilege on counts 1, 2, 5, 8, 10 and 18 and 24 to sentence you,” Aquilina said. ” … I’m giving you 175 years.”
It was 50 more than the guidelines suggested, an extra half century just for show. Somewhere in there he’s eventually eligible for parole. Good luck with that. There never is and never was any chance Nassar, 54, is living to that day, or ever getting out.
There was still satisfaction here in the hammer being dropped.
Soon she sent him off, shackled and sickly, to some hell of a prison that will still be too good for him. Through the door he shuffled.
The sooner Larry Nassar was out of everyone’s life the better. His reality now is waking each morning and wondering what dangers and predators his day might entail – just as he once did to his little girl victims. It will be a life of stress and panic, the worst possible existence for a coward. As more than one victim noted, it will be a more appropriate punishment than the death penalty that would allow him to escape.
Nassar’s words didn’t appear to trouble many in the courtroom. They were galling. They were one last revelation about the man. But he was gone now. At long last, gone.
In 2014 the Indianapolis Star published an investigative story about how USA Gymnastics failed to protect athletes from sexual assault. A woman named Rachael Denhollander read it and contacted the reporters, saying she was willing to go on the record about abuse she suffered as an elite gymnast at the hands of Nassar, the national team doctor.
From there to here was a string of dominos. More stories. More accusations. Denhollander surviving attacks from Nassar supporters to eventually be backed by another victim and then another. A true investigation finally was undertaken against a man who was first accused in 1997, when 16-year-old Larissa Boyce told Michigan State’s gymnastics coach about what Nassar did to her. No report was ever filed on that.
Soon the child porn was discovered. Firings and lawsuits followed. More victims came forward, in multiples now. Additional charges were brought. Staring at reality, Nassar just gave up, Coward Larry unwilling to fight.
It came all the way to this, woman after woman, girl after girl, coming forward to call out and stomp down their abuser.
“I did it because it was right,” said Denhollander, who as the first to go public was granted the opportunity to provide the final victim statement Wednesday morning.
She turned and spoke directly to Nassar.
“I pity you.”
When she was done with a speech that eviscerated Nassar, Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and so many others, the court room rose for a standing ovation, a hailing not just of her words but of her actions, a tribute to the woman for whom without her courage, none of this happens. If not for her, Nassar is probably still abusing kids.
“You built an army of survivors,” Aquilina said to Denhollander. “You are a five-star general.”
It was that kind of day. One of redemption. One of revenge. One of victory. One of planning for what’s next. This was over. This is not over. This is a movement that will ring far from this small, non-descript courthouse.
It will also, they hope, restart their lives, offer freedom and focus and maybe some nights of deep and restful sleep. After the verdict, survivors exchanged hugs and cell phone numbers, made lunch plans and wiped each other’s tears.
Aquilina instructed them to leave their victimhood in the courtroom, leave their shame with Larry Nassar, and move forward and live the lives he tried to steal from them.
In those last, fleeting moments, Larry Nassar tried to paint himself as a man of regret, a man capable of salvation, a man now aware of and sorrowful over the damage he inflicted. He tried to be what he always pretended to be.
And then, as it always does, the truth came slamming down all around him, Judge Aquilina never giving him a chance.
Coward Larry. Never anything but Coward Larry.
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