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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Disgraced doctor to return to court for another sentence

Larry Nassar is set to face dozens more women who accuse him of sexually assaulting them

Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered a criminal investigation into claims that former doctor Larry Nassar abused some of his victims at the Texas ranch that was the training ground for US women's gymnastics. AP/David J Phillip
Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered a criminal investigation into claims that former doctor Larry Nassar abused some of his victims at the Texas ranch that was the training ground for US women's gymnastics. AP/David J Phillip

Larry Nassar, the sports doctor accused of sexually assaulting more than 150 women and girls, will be confronted again this week by scores of victims as he faces another prison sentence for molesting gymnasts, this time at an elite Michigan club run by an Olympic coach.

Judge Janice Cunningham has set aside several days for 60 people who want to confront Nassar or have their statement read into the court record. The event could unfold much the same as a hearing last week in another county that ended with Nassar being sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison — what a different judge described as signing the doctor’s “death warrant”.

The practice of allowing accusers to speak even if they are not tied directly to a case has raised questions about fairness. But lawyers say victim impact statements probably pose little risk on appeal, especially since Nassar pleaded guilty, agreed to allow the statements and is expected to face another long prison sentence as part of his deal with prosecutors.

“If you get what you bargained for, then you really can’t argue that you were prejudiced in any way," said Margaret Raben, former leader of a Michigan association of criminal defence lawyers.

It is not uncommon for prosecutors to introduce aggravating evidence at sentencing to support their request for a severe punishment. But the parade of victims offering emotional accounts of their abuse to the face of an abuser went well beyond the typical hearing.

Ms Raben said there was a “horrible dynamic” last week in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom, even if the judge had the option to allow so many people to speak in a case that involved seven victims.

“Her obvious delight was just off the wall,” Ms Raben said, referring to Judge Aquilina’s “death warrant” remark and others. “I am not defending Larry Nassar at all, but what I saw with her was a real abandonment of judicial demeanour ... The process doesn’t change because everybody hates the defendant. That is the absolute glory, or should be, of the American justice system.”

A fellow Ingham County judge, William Collette, said Judge Aquilina’s handling of the hearing was “outrageous”. Others, however, have praised her treatment of victims and their parents.

The case on Judge Cunningham’s docket on Wednesday in Eaton County centres on Nassar’s assaults at Twistars, a Lansing-area gymnastics club that was run by 2012 Olympic coach John Geddert. Nassar admits penetrating three girls with his hands when he was supposed to be treating them for injuries.

So far, 57 victims want to speak in court or submit statements. Attorney Mick Grewal said 11 of his clients have signed up, including some who were inspired by the 150-plus young women and girls who appeared in Judge Aquilina’s court. He called it a “cathartic experience”.

“Now they’re at a point in their healing process where they want to confront Larry, and they want to show the world that they are survivors and they are strong and they are part of this movement," Mr Grewal said. “It helps them through the healing process.”

He said the Nassar cases are extraordinary in the number of victims who have come forward.

“The only case that’s out there that’s even similar in stature is Penn State, and this is now six times as big as Penn State, maybe seven times,” Mr Grewal said, referring to boys who said they were sexually abused by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, the Nassar scandal continued to trigger other developments around the country, from Texas to the nation’s capital.

Texas governor Greg Abbott ordered a criminal investigation after victims said they were assaulted by Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch, a Texas facility that was the training ground for US women’s gymnastics. The ranch is owned by former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi.

USA Gymnastics cut ties with the ranch earlier this month, a few days after Olympic champion Simone Biles and said she dreaded the thought of having to return there to train.

In Michigan, former governor John Engler was expected to become interim president at Michigan State, according to a high-ranking school official involved in the plan.

The official told The Associated Press that trustees would vote on Wednesday to hire Mr Engler. The school’s top post is vacant after Lou Anna Simon resigned last week.

Mr Engler will head the school as it confronts lawsuits filed by more than 100 women and girls, and investigations by the state attorney general, the NCAA and Congress.

One of Michigan State’s corporate sponsors chose not to have its logo behind Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio during recent news conferences. Auto-Owners Insurance spokesman Trevor Mahoney told The Associated Press on Tuesday the company did not think it was appropriate. Prior to the scandal, the coaches would be flanked by a backdrop with the Auto-Owners Insurance logo.

Meanwhile, Congress has responded to the sex abuse scandal by sending President Donald Trump legislation that requires governing bodies for amateur athletics to swiftly report claims of abuse to law enforcement.