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Alleged Nassar victims still frustrated, confused by plea deal

Larry Nassar mug shot
Michigan Attorney General's office

Jeanette Antolin says she feels like federal prosecutors “lied straight to my face.”

A member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics national team from 1995-2000, Antolin says Larry Nassar sexually abused her for years in his role as team doctor. Nassar was also a professor and clinician at Michigan State University until he was fired in 2016.

Antolin says when officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Michigan and the FBI came out to California on Monday to tell her Nassar was going to sign a plea deal, allowing him to plead guilty to three child pornography charges – but nothing for sexual assault – she felt frustrated.

“And I asked them, ‘So you’re telling me all the other victims are OK with this? That’s so hard for me to believe because I’m not. I don’t feel like it’s fair. I don’t feel like I’m getting justice for what happened to me, and everybody else isn’t getting justice for them. I feel like he’s getting off. He molested hundreds of girls.’”

But Antolin says she was assured by those officials that other alleged victims had agreed.

She doesn’t think the FBI and the federal prosecutors were just referring to the four children specifically mentioned in the plea agreement.

“No, they said it very broadly. And that’s why I was confused. They did tell me that ‘Well, some people don’t want their identities known, and if it comes to a trial they don’t want to be on the stand.’”

“I was just livid mad, and later I find out that they basically lied to my face. When I walked out of the office, I called my lawyer and he was like, ‘We have people calling off the hook not OK with this.’ And I was like, are you kidding me? So I basically just got lied to my face by the people that are supposed to be representing us.”

U.S. Attorney promises a “day of reckoning” for Nassar

On Tuesday, Nassar pleaded guilty to three charges: 1) Knowingly receiving child pornography, which carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison; 2) Possessing thousands of images of child porn, which also carries a max of 20 years; and 3) Trying to destroy or conceal evidence of that child porn when he wiped his MSU computer clean and threw other hard drives into the trash, where they were found by police. That final charge also carries a 20 year maximum sentence.

Judge Janet Neff is expected to hold a hearing later this fall to determine Nassar’s sentence. At most, she can give him three consecutive 20-year sentences, which would put him in federal prison for 60 years.

And in return for Nassar’s guilty plea, federal prosecutors gave him a “non-prosecution agreement.” They’re promising not to go after Nassar for allegedly abusing four children, whose names are being withheld from courts documents. Nassar allegedly abused Child 1 and Child 2 in his swimming pool in 2015. And he allegedly traveled to other states and to foreign countries to engage in “illicit sexual conduct” with Child 3 and Child 4.

There’s a five-year statute of limitations on that last charge, says Barb McQuade, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

So even if the government could prove that other alleged victims, like Jeanette Antolin, were abused by Nassar in overseas gymnastics competitions, there’s nothing federal prosecutors can do about those older cases, McQuade says.

With that in mind, she says the plea deal makes sense.

“You have what could be a very difficult, messy, risky case to present at trial,” McQuade says. “And you would be asking witnesses to relive the worst moments of their lives. Instead, this [plea deal] is an opportunity to resolve the case without a trial and get the defendant up to 60 years in prison.”

“She’s right about that, the child porn charges are slam dunk,” says Wayne State University Law Professor Peter Henning. “There is no defense once they got his [hard drives.] What’s his defense? ‘Oh I didn’t know they were on there?’”

Still, Jeanette Antolin says federal prosecutors never said anything to her about the statute of limitations or a specific trial strategy.

“If they had told me, you know, ‘Look, here’s why we can’t prosecute all these cases, the statute of limitations is all gone,’ then I would have understood that. I understand the statute of limitations. But trying to understand that all these women, whether they were in these statutes or not, were just OK with not prosecuting him for all that he’s done? That’s what was hard for me.”

Antolin’s lawyer, California attorney John Manly, says several of his clients – including former Olympic gymnasts – feel confused and frustrated by the plea deal and the federal prosecutor’s explanations.

“This is exactly what you don’t want to do to sex abuse victims,” Manly says “I’ve done thousands of these cases and I’ve worked with law enforcement all over the country, and I’ve never seen anything like this. You need to be clear.”

But in a press release Tuesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said there will still be a “day of reckoning” for Nassar.

“[This plea deal] ensures that all of Dr. Nassar’s victims, including those who are not victims of the current charges or referenced in the plea agreement, will have an opportunity for vindication through the broad federal sentencing process.”

Michigan Radio made several attempts to contact the U.S. attorney’s office on Tuesday. Requests for comment were not returned.

Nassar still faces three criminal cases at the state level, and those cases aren’t affected by this federal case. 

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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