Thursday 13 December 2018

US sports doctor to be sentenced for abusing gymnasts

Larry Nassar molested scores of young women and girls, including Olympic champions, many of whom confronted him in court.

Larry Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child porn offences (AP)
Larry Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child porn offences (AP)

By Ed White and Mike Householder

A former Michigan sports doctor who sexually abused Olympic gymnasts and other young women for years is set to be sentenced.

Larry Nassar, 54, will face justice following the statements of more than 150 victims.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hear from a few more victims before sending Nassar to jail on the seventh day of a remarkable hearing that has given the girls, young women and their parents a chance to confront their abuser in court.

He faces a minimum term of 25 to 40 years on molestation charges.

Gymnast Emily Morales gives her victim impact statement (AP)

Among those testifying on the last day in the Michigan courtroom is Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly identify herself as one of Nassar’s young victims.

Ms Denhollander 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 Ms 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.

Christina Barba speaks in court (AP)

The judge is likely to be unsparing in her treatment of Nassar. Judge Aquilina has praised the victims who have appeared in her court since January 16, calling them “sister survivors”, and assuring them that their perpetrator will be punished for his crimes.

The women have included Olympians Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.

“Your words are vital. They are as strong as your martial arts,” Judge 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.”

Ms Hutchins and Mattie Larson, a former national gymnast, talked about how Nassar won their allegiance with sweets, Olympic trinkets and encouraging words while they were under constant scrutiny from their demanding coaches.

Jillian Swinehart and her mother Ann confront Nassar in court (AP)

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 told him. “I’m happy you will be spending the rest of your life in prison.

“Enjoy hell, by the way.”

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.

Press Association

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