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Why some alleged victims are furious over Larry Nassar's plea deal

Larry Nassar at a hearing in Michigan in 2017
Kate Wells
Michigan Radio
Larry Nassar at a hearing in Michigan earlier this year

The former doctor for the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team, who was also a respected clinician at Michigan State University before he was fired, is expected to plead guilty to three charges of child pornography at a hearing Tuesday morning.

In exchange, federal prosecutors won't go after Larry Nassar for allegedly molesting two kids in his swimming pool in 2015, or for allegedly traveling with the intent of sexually assaulting two minors between 2006 and 2013.

That's according to a plea deal Nassar signed with the U.S. Attorney's office in Western Michigan. And for some of Nassar's alleged victims, it's a baffling and infuriating move by federal prosecutors.

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney's office in Western Michigan flew out to California to talk to some of those women and girls, says John Manly, an attorney representing 90 alleged victims in this case, including former Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher.

“They were told that some of the gymnasts didn't want to testify,” Manly says. “Well, listen, I get it. No victim wants to testify. And if those women don't want to testify, don't bring those cases. But that doesn't mean you can't bring the cases of other women who are willing to tell about what happened to them.”

Others say they're confused by the federal prosecutor's strategy here: in the face of so much apparent evidence (police say they found hard drives with 37,000 images of child porn in Nassar's trash cans during a search of his home,) why strike a deal?  

“These are questions that the U.S. Attorney's office is going to have to answer,” says Michigan attorney Jamie White, who's representing 17 alleged victims in a civil suit against Nassar. “This is someone who, historically, I think, has really set a terrifying benchmark for the amount of victims he's been able to accumulate. And I've been doing criminal defense for 20 years myself, and I don't understand why there would be any interest in negotiating with this man.”

Kaye Hooker, the spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in Western Michigan, said Monday afternoon that she couldn't comment on the case. “There will be a change of plea hearing tomorrow morning at 10:30,” Hooker says.  

On Nassar's end, the benefits of this deal seem pretty clear: the sexual exploitation prosecution gets dropped, and he goes on record as taking full responsibility for the child porn possession – something that might score him points with the judge during sentencing.

“Without question, the defense team will definitely be asking for leniency based on his admission of guilt,” White says. “And that is one of the variables that's incorporated when looking at the sentencing guidelines: you know, the willingness to accept responsibility.”

But for Manly's clients, it feels like this plea deal is taking prosecution off the table in their cases.

“Let's be clear: if you're molested at the Olympic Games or an international competition, in your hotel room, in your bed, that is a gross violation,” he says. “And the only way those women can now prosecute these cases is if they get on a plane and go to Sydney [Australia] – we know Jamie Dantzscher said publicly that she was molested in Sydney.

"So her only alternative is to go to Sydney and ask the Australian authorities to prosecute. Or go to the district attorney's office in Sacramento County where he abused her in California, and start the process over again. These are the best America has to offer. What are we doing to them? They shouldn't have to do that, to get justice.”  

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff will likely hold hearings to decide Nassar’s sentencing for the child pornography charges. He's facing up to 20 years for each of the three charges.

This federal case doesn't affect the three other criminal cases moving forward against Nassar at the state level. 

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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