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Nassar ordered to stand trial for allegedly assaulting 6 girls

Larry Nassar in court with his attorneys, Shannon Smith and Matthew Newburg.
Kate Wells
Michigan Radio
Former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar in court Friday.

Former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar will stand trial for allegedly sexually assaulting six women and girls, all of whom were 15 years old or younger at the time. He’s accused of using his fingers to penetrate them vaginally and anally, without gloves or consent, under the guise of medical treatment.

As a respected MSU professor and a former Olympic gymnastics team doctor, the prosecution argues he used his reputation to make his alleged victims believe this was legitimate treatment.

“That’s how he was able to get away with it for so long,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said. “He was in a position of authority.”

After two and half days of hearings, including emotional testimony from all of the alleged victims in this case, 55th District Court Judge Donald Allen ruled there’s enough evidence to send this case up to Ingham County Circuit Court, where Nassar will face 17 charges of criminal sexual conduct.

Twelve of those charges are for first degree criminal sexual conduct, including four charges for assaulting a child under the age of 13. Those charges come with a minimum mandatory 25-year sentence, according to the prosecution.

The defense offered just one statement for the record on Friday, noting that they object to these charges being bound over to the circuit court.  

In video, Nassar tells police he didn’t “purposefully” get arousal from patients

The prosecution closed with a 40-minute tape of Nassar’s police interview from August 30th 2016, back before these allegations had become public and before more than 80 women and girls also made police reports about Nassar.

Credit Kate Wells
Tape of Larry Nassar speaking to MSU police in August 2016

At the time of the interview, Rachael Denhollander had just filed a complaint with the Michigan State University Police. She claims that 16 years previously, when she was a 15-year-old gymnast, Nassar digitally penetrated her vaginally and anally, massaged her breast, and had a visible erection on two occasions.

In the video, Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford and Nassar can be seen sitting in a small interview room at the police station, where Nassar has willingly come in to be interviewed. He’s wearing a brown collared shirt and khaki pants, and becomes increasingly flustered as the interview goes on.

Nassar tells police he can’t remember treating Denhollander, but doesn’t deny having had an erection while treating a patient.

“I shouldn’t be getting an erection during an exam,” Nassar says at first. “I can’t explain that. When I’m working, I’m working.”

Later, Detective Sgt. Munford pushes him on that point.

“So just to clarify, you’re saying that during these treatments when you’re dealing with, um, you know, teenage girls, who are very physically fit, very attractive, that you don’t get aroused from touching, I mean, you’re essentially touching their genitalia?” Munford asks.

"If there was arousal, you know what I mean, it would be because of whatever, I don't know."

“I mean I’m not purposely trying to get aroused, you know? I mean, come on,” Nassar says.

“If there was arousal, it’s, it’s, well, you know what I mean, it would be because of whatever, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean by ‘whatever?’” Munford asks. 

“When you’re a guy, sometimes you get an erection, you know?” Nassar replies.

“You get an erection when you’re aroused,” Munford says.  

“You know what I mean, uh, how do you say this? If I had an erection, I don’t understand why I would have an erection from doing the treatment, you know?” Nassar says. “OK? That would be rather embarrassing, to have that happen. That’s not appropriate.”

Nassar tape shows discrepancies in his own story about genital penetration

Munford and Nassar also discussed a previous police complaint about Nassar: Back in 2014, an MSU student told police a similar story about being assaulted during treatment. At the time, an internal MSU Title IX investigation cleared Nassar of wrongdoing. But he was given “required protocols” to follow from then on, including having another person in the room during treatments.

Credit Kate Wells
Judge Allen pulled a chair up under the TV monitor to hear the tape of Nassar's police interview

“Have you had any instance [since then] where there hasn’t been anyone in the room for an exam?” Munford asks.

“On occasions, of course,” Nassar replies. “That’s just the way that medicine is now. It’s difficult.” But in those situations, he adds, he’s “trying not do to those techniques [involving penetration].”

Munford then asks him to describe the intravaginal techniques. “It’s like the pelvic floor,” he tells her. “You’re really coming in ... and so as you’re treating that, you can really feel the release, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, what did you just do?’ Because they can feel that effect.”

So how long have you been doing this technique, Munford asks?

“I have video from like, 30 pounds ago!” Nassar says, laughing. “From like the 1990s, like early the 1990s, and I’ve made videos [that are] very clear, I’ve lectured. They’re on my G drive that I sent you.”

(Afterwards, the prosecution asked Munford if any of Nassar’s instructional videos included intravaginal penetration. “From what I could see, no,” Munford testified.)

Later in that August police interview, Munford asks if these techniques would “ever involve, like, digital anal penetration?”

“Only if we’re doing a coccyx problem,” Nassar says, referring to the tailbone.

Do you wear gloves when you’re doing this, Munford asks?

“If I’m going to go intra [anal], then yes,” Nassar says. (Denhollander and the other five alleged victims in this case say Nassar did not wear gloves.)

Munford tells Nassar that Denhollander says “he anally penetrated me with his thumb.” Nassar denies it. “See I would never do that for the coccyx,” he says.  

Munford says that’s not what Denhollander remembers. “Your fingers are vaginally penetrating her, and then your thumb anally penetrates her.”

“No,” Nassasr says. “And I don’t see how that would be accurate. I’m just working the floor. How would I be putting my thumb and fingers like that? That would not be correct.”

Later, Munford asks what Nassar would say if “I told you there may possibly be other complaints?”

“I mean, I’m doing this treatment a lot,” Nassar says. “You work down there a lot…. I feel I’m explaining the process. They may not think I’m explaining the process.”

Credit Kate Wells
Defense attorney Shannon Smith (left) talks to her client, Nassar. Matt Newburg, on the right, is also a defense attorney.

How many times do you think you’ve done this procedure, Munford asks?

“Could be thousands, you know, over the years,” he says. “Because it’s been a long time I’ve been doing it.” 

In his ruling, Judge Allen mentioned that statement specifically. “He says that he had done it thousands of times. And then it became sort of apparent to me as well, as I was listening, that there are only limited situations where something like this would be appropriate.” Plus, Judge Allen says, none of the alleged victims in this case mentioned anything about tailbone injuries.

“So I think that based upon that sort of general observation that it would be appropriate for the court to bind over [the charges against Nassar to the circuit court for trial] with regard to each of these claims.”

It’s likely these charges will be combined with three other sexual assault charges Nassar is already facing in Ingham County. A trial date hasn’t been set yet. Nassar also faces a preliminary exam next week in Eaton County on separate charges. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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