Witness: 'I told Kathie Klages I had been sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar'

·6 min read
Former Michigan State University women's gymnastics coach Kathie Klages listens to prosecutor's opening statements Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk's courtroom at Veterans Memorial Courthouse in Lansing, Mich.  Klages is charged with lying to investigators in connection with sexual assault complaints against sports doctor Larry Nassar.  (Anntaninna Biondo/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)
Former Michigan State University women's gymnastics coach Kathie Klages listens to prosecutor's opening statements Tuesday in Ingham County Circuit Court. (AP)

LANSING, Mich. — Larissa Boyce was understandably uncertain, confused and mostly embarrassed, which is precisely how a master manipulator such as Larry Nassar always wanted his victims.

She was sure of a couple things, though.

First, that the regular physical therapy and medical sessions with Nassar that he claimed were designed to keep her competing as a gymnast were actually nothing more than scheduled, twice-weekly sexual assaults.

And second, she needed to tell someone.

Just 16 years old, small in frame and all alone, Boyce said she entered the office of Kathie Klages inside Jenison Fieldhouse on the campus of Michigan State. Klages doubled as MSU’s gymnastics coach and the director of the Spartan Youth Gymnastics program, where Boyce trained.

In graphic and direct terms, Boyce said she spoke her truth to Klages, describing precisely how Nassar’s treatments for an injured back were really unwanted penetrations. For a socially sheltered girl — she spent her free time training four hours a day, five days a week — it was a painful conversation.

“I told Kathie Klages I had been sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar,” Boyce testified Tuesday at Ingham County Circuit Court.

That was 1997.

Nassar wouldn’t be arrested until 2016.

In between, hundreds and hundreds of little girls and young women, fell prey to Nassar and his reign of terror. They ranged from mid-Michigan kids such as Boyce to the most decorated of Olympic gymnasts the sport has ever known, as Nassar became increasingly emboldened.

Nassar, 56, is now serving out prison sentences for sexual assault and child pornography that total up to 185 years. He will rot in a cell until he dies. Back out here, his impact remains though, as lives are being reconstructed, survivors are attempting to heal, and questions about how a monster could thrive for so long are being answered.

That includes the trial of Klages, 64, which began here on Tuesday morning just down the hall in the same courthouse where two years ago a parade of victims made impassioned and empowering statements at Nassar’s sentencing.

Klages is charged with two counts of lying to police. In a 2018 interview with the Michigan attorney general’s office she said she had never been alerted to any potential abuse allegations involving Nassar, a longtime friend she worked closely with during her coaching career.

Prosecutors allege that both Boyce and a then-14-year-old gymnast who testified Tuesday but has sought to remain unnamed, did tell Klages in 1997. If convicted she faces up to four years in prison. Klages has pleaded not guilty and has said she doesn’t recall the 1997 conversations, if they occurred at all.

“This is a case about memory, Klages’ memory,” defense attorney Takura Nyamfukudza said in an opening statement. “Not about what the government thinks she should remember. … She was 62 years old when she was asked about a conversation 20 years ago.”

Boyce has no doubts about what she told Klages that day in Klages’ small office. “It was a traumatic event,” Boyce said. “I recall traumatic events.”

Boyce said Klages was immediately dismissive.

“She said, ‘Well, I’ve known Larry for years and years, there’s no way he would do anything inappropriate,’ ” Boyce testified. “And I said, ‘Well, that isn’t what is happening for me.’ ”

Boyce said Klages began calling in other gymnasts — both from the youth program and the MSU varsity — and asked them if they had similar experiences or concerns about Nassar.

“I felt mortified that they were coming into the room,” Boyce said. “I felt embarrassed they were being brought into the private conversation I was having with Kathie.”

None of the other gymnasts revealed any abuse. Boyce countered by mentioning her friend, who had previously confided in her. That gymnast was summoned from practice and testified on Tuesday that she described to Klages that Nassar had repeatedly assaulted her.

“He was touching me underneath my shorts and under my shorts and he was putting his fingers inside of me,” the woman, now a mother of five, testified.

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2018, file photo, Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics and member of Michigan State's sports medicine staff, sits in court during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Mich. Michigan State University said Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, that the NCAA has cleared it of any rules violations in the Nassar sexual-assault scandal. Nassar pleaded guilty to assaulting girls and women while working as a campus sports doctor for Michigan State athletes and gymnasts in the region. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Larry Nassar is currently serving 185 years in prison for sexual assault and child pornography. (AP)

Boyce said having a coach she dreamed of competing for at MSU, plus other gymnasts she considered peers and role models, doubt her left her rattled.

“It made me feel that I was a liar,” Boyce said. “It made me feel dirty. I felt destroyed at that moment. … I felt so humiliated. … I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.”

Boyce testified that Klages held up a piece of paper.

“She said, ‘I can file this but there will be very serious consequences for you and Larry Nassar,’ ” Boyce testified. “I was 16. I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. I thought, ‘I must have a dirty mind. What’s wrong with me?’ ”

Boyce said soon after she met alone with Nassar, who told her that Klages had informed him of her allegation.

“He sat me down in his office and said, ‘So, I talked to Kathie, she told me you had concerns,’ ” Boyce testified. She said she gave up.

“I [raised] my hands up and said, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault,’ ” Boyce said. She so desperately wanted both his approval and to prove that she understood she had been wrong that, “I hopped back up on the table and I continued to be abused by him.”

Not too long after, she quit gymnastics for good. It wasn't until she read an Indianapolis Star story in 2016 alleging Nassar's abused that she believed herself again. "I said, 'I knew it had happened to me,’ " Boyce said. Now 39, she is the mother of four and was one of the first of Nassar’s survivors to come forward publicly.

The second gymnast had a similar reaction to being doubted. It somehow, sadly, drew her closer to Nassar. She remained a patient, and was thus abused, for 16 more years, long after her athletic career was over and she was married and starting a family of her own.

“He took very good care of me,” she testified. “He was like an uncle to me at the time. … Looking back, I know I was being manipulated.”

Klages’ defense did its best to poke holes in each woman’s story, trying to focus on even small inconsistencies or expansions of details between various retelling of their stories through the years. It likewise pointed out separate false memories.

A jury will decide, perhaps by Friday, who it believes is telling the truth.

Here in Lansing though, the trial went beyond the innocence or guilt of Kathie Klages. It was tense, with combative cross examinations. It was emotional, with both the former gymnasts and the former coach, sporting a black and MSU-green dress, trying to maintain confidence.

Mostly, though, this was a scene punctuated by regret. Way back in 1997, there was the chance that Larry Nassar, the personally charismatic, professionally respected wolf in USA Gymnastics clothing, could have been stopped.

All those years and all those victims ago, all the trauma and all the pain, this could have ended, if only someone — Kathie Klages or not — had dared to ask, let alone just listen, to those teenage gymnasts who were trying their best to stand up and speak out.

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