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Larry Nassar gets 60 years in federal prison for child pornography

Larry Nassar
Michigan Attorney General's office

The former Olympic gymnastics and Michigan State University sports doctor who sexually abused patients under the guise of treatments, got what’s effectively a life sentence today – albeit for different crimes.

Larry Nassar told a courtroom packed with the young women he’d abused, their parents and family, that he’s been “battling” with his “disease” for years, and compared his struggle to alcoholism. “I’ve tried to manage it and improve myself,” he said softly. “I lost everything because of it…. You think about alcoholism, I’ve been able to avoid drugs and alcohol [under stress] but I chose this path.”

Nassar, age 54, says he’s asked a priest to pray for his victims, and hopes that his case “can be turned into some type of good … more awareness, more education to prevent others from falling into this trap [of child pornography.]”

But U.S. District Judge Janet Neff wasn’t having it.

She gave him the max sentence of 60 years for possessing thousands of images of child pornography, including, she said, images he made of his own child.

“The vast number of photos and videos, is like no other offense of this nature I’ve viewed,” Neff said from the bench. “The fact that the defendant made his own videos, at least one of which included his own child … [and] there were probably more on the [Michigan State University work-issued] computer he erased.”

Nassar’s history of sexually abusing young children convinced Judge Neff that he “was, is, and will be a danger to children. He should never again have access to children. He’s unique in the experience of this judge.”

Neff ruled this federal sentence of 60 years will be served after the state-level sentences Nassar receives in separate cases where he’s pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his patients under the guise of treatment. Those sentencing hearings begin in January, and victims are allowed to make statements in court if they wish.

After the ruling, Nassar defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Matthew Newburg said Nassar will be appealing this sentence. They declined to comment on the judge’s statements that Nassar created child pornography involving his own kids.

Women call for accountability of MSU, USA Gymnastics

“There was closure for me, and I know as well, with everybody else as well, seeing Larry Nassar go behind bars for the rest of his life,” Jeanette Antolin, a former member of the U.S. national gymnastics team, said after the sentencing. “It’s a step in the right direction, but we’re still not finished.”

Antolin and more than 100 other women and girls are suing Nassar’s former employers, including USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, claiming the institutions failed to stop Nassar’s abuse and protect his victims.

“So they can run and hide as much as they want. But eventually the truth will come out,” Antolin says. “Just like Larry.”

Tiffany Thomas Lopez was an MSU softball player in the late '90s and early 2000s. She says she told at least two trainers that Nassar was digitally penetrating her, without gloves, but “I was told I was crazy.”

“I was looking for validation,” Thomas Lopez says. “And so there is a sense of relief within myself that I got exactly what I was asking for. And now I feel I’m still in the search for my alma mater to take responsibility.”

Thomas Lopez, Antolin, and Rachael Denhollander (who first came forward with complaints against Nassar last fall, which led to a report in the IndyStar and a massive MSU police investigation into Nassar) say they haven’t been contacted by MSU, or Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney brought in by MSU to investigate Nassar’s actions.

“As a victim of Larry Nassar, I have much to be grateful for today,” Denhollander said. “Grateful for the efforts of prosecutors … and for the federal judge who let everyone know that the girls in those videos were worth every measure of justice

“But today the justice feels incomplete. For 16 months, I and other victims have been pleading for answers [from MSU and USA Gymnastics] …. And for 16 months these organizations have deflected….

“Their repeated statement, that MSU bears no responsibility [for Nassar] shows an absolute lack of knowledge about what it takes to enable a predator. Enabling rarely takes the form of someone looking at a perpetrator and saying, ‘This is OK.’

“No, more often than not it looks like deliberate indifference. Authority figures silencing victims and siding with abusers. Mishandling investigations. Poor policies, poor oversight. And MSU and USA Gymnastics are the poster children.”

Michigan State University spokesman sent the following statement today: 

"Larry Nassar’s sentencing today on federal child pornography charges represents another important step toward justice for the victims. As our president has said, we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret any time someone in our community experiences it. We acknowledge it takes real courage for all victims of sexual violence who come forward to share their story. His behavior was deeply disturbing and repugnant, as the state and federal criminal charges that he has been convicted of show. To your other questions, allegations have been made against the university, claiming it is engaged in a cover-up by university administrators. MSU unequivocally denies this accusation. Moreover, MSU and its external counsel have consistently promised if it were to find any employee knew of and acquiesced in Nassar’s misconduct, it would immediately be reported to law enforcement. As for the call for an independent investigation, the FBI and MSU Police Department conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct. The results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. Additionally, on Dec. 6, President Simon responded to Michigan Attorney General Schuette’s letter regarding Larry Nassar. She instructed Patrick Fitzgerald from Skadden Arps, who represents MSU in these matters, to respond to the Attorney General’s request for information. If any other law enforcement agency would like to conduct additional criminal inquiries, we will cooperate fully."

While USA Gymnastics didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, the organization released an earlier statement last month when Nassar pleaded guilty: 

"USA Gymnastics is very sorry that any athlete was harmed by Larry Nassar. Upon first learning of athlete concerns about Nassar in 2015, USA Gymnastics reported him to the FBI and relieved him of any involvement with USA Gymnastics. Federal and state authorities ultimately charged Nassar with multiple crimes, leading to his incarceration and now his admission of guilt to charges of criminal sexual conduct. We note that affected women contacted by Michigan prosecutors supported resolution by plea, and USA Gymnastics also views Nassar’s guilty plea as an important acknowledgment of his appalling and devious conduct that permits punishment without further victimization of survivors."

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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