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How Olympian McKayla Maroney’s abuse allegations could affect Nassar case

Maroney released a statement alleging repeated abuse by Nassar.
Maroney released a statement alleging repeated abuse by Nassar.

From tabloids toTime, McKayla Maroney just launched the Larry Nassar story back into the national spotlight.

Her statements early this morning describing alleged sexual assault by Nassar during her Olympic gymnastics career are detailed and horrifying.

Nassar’s defense attorneys declined to comment.  An attorney for Maroney declined to provide her for an interview. 

The former Michigan State University sports doctor is heading into a federal sentencing hearing on December 7th after pleading guilty to possessing thousands of images of child pornography. Nassar struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors, with prosecutors recommending he get somewhere between 22-27 years in prison.

There’s also a criminal case playing out at the state level, in which both the state Attorney General’s office and Nassar’s defense team asked Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to push back jury selectionuntil after the federal sentencing.

“Based on the intense amount of media that this case has garnered, there is little question that the jurors are going to come back on December the 8th [after the federal sentencing] with information as it relates to my client’s federal sentence," defense attorney Matt Newburg told Judge Aquilina at a motion hearing last week.

But Aquilina disagreed, and ruled that jury selection will continue on schedule.

“Those jurors will be told not to listen to the media.  Not to do any homework,” Aquilina said.

But thanks to Maroney’s statements, both the federal and county judge will be heading into court with renewed national attention on this case. "I'm a little surprised the [county] judge turned it down, but she may be tired of all the delays," says Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning.

But by the time jury selection gets going in December, Henning says, Maroney's allegations may have faded from the collective memory a bit. "[Her story] will have an effect, but there are a fair number of people who don't pay attention to sports and other types of these cases. [When attorneys ask] 'Have you heard of Larry Nassar?' who will say, 'Yeah, kinda?'" 

"On this one," says Henning, "Ingham County is going to be a little tougher [to find jurors who haven't read details about the case] but not impossible."  

Barb McQuade, former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, says Maroney's statements could be admissible in court for the federal sentencing hearing. 

“So it might be yet another reason to advocate for the [high end] of the 27 year [sentencing guideline,]” McQuade says. “[The federal judge] could even go beyond the 27 years, since the sentencing guideline is advisory. We already about some 140 [victims] alleging abuse. It’s already so bad, I don’t know if this makes it worse.”

McQuade also says it’ll still be possible – although not easy – to find jurors in Ingham County who can be unbiased in Nassar’s criminal case at the state level.

“It seems difficult in a case that’s this high profile. And it’s not just, have you heard about it, but can you be fair? It’s shocking how many people you can pull into the courtroom who’ve never heard of this, or, 'I’ve heard something about it but I don’t know the details.'"

McQuade adds, “I don’t think it will disrupt the trial. I think it’s one more incremental piece in a horrifying total.” 

USA Gymnastics issued the following statement this morning regarding Maroney's allegations:

"USA Gymnastics admires the courage of those, like McKayla Maroney, who have come forward to share their personal experiences with sexual abuse. Because of their strength in coming forward, predators can be held accountable for their actions. We, like so many others, are outraged and disgusted by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused. We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. We are strengthening and enhancing our policies and procedures regarding abuse, as well as expanding our educational efforts to increase awareness of signs to watch for and reporting suspicions of abuse, including the obligation to immediately report. USA Gymnastics, its members and community are committed to working together to keep our athletes as safe as possible."

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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