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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

‘I’ve just signed your death warrant’: the judge who gave voice to the victims of Nassar’s abuse

Rosemarie Aquilina allowed more than 150 women to talk about the impact the disgraced doctor’s crimes had on them

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina reads excerpts from the letter written by Larry Nassar during the seventh day of Nassar's sentencing hearing. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina reads excerpts from the letter written by Larry Nassar during the seventh day of Nassar's sentencing hearing. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

It appeared to be the final degradation of thousands as a letter written by Dr Lawrence Nassar to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was read out in court in Lansing, Michigan, just before he was sentenced on Wednesday for multiple sex crimes.

Nassar, the former team doctor for the American gymnastics team, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in jail for a horrific catalogue of offences committed against more than 150 young women, complained about his treatment and saidhis accusers were seeking media attention and money.

When the judge read out the line “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” there were sharp intakes of breath and gasps from those in the courtroom, including many of his victims.

Ms Aquilina, 59, who served 20 years in the Michigan Army National Guard and has the nickname "Barracuda Aquilina", then looked across the courtroom at Nassar, considered the document in her hands, and contemptuously tossed it to one side.

She then delivered an extraordinary finale to a hearing that has appalled America and the world as she sentenced Nassar.

“It is my privilege – on counts 1, 2, 5, 8, 10 and 18 and 24 – to sentence you to 40 years.

“I’m going to look at my cheat sheet: 40 years, just so you know and you can count it off your calendar, is 480 months.

“The tail end – because I need to send a message to the parole board in the event somehow God is gracious and I know he is – and you survive the 60 years in federal court first and then you start on my 40 years. You’ve gone off the page here as to what I’m doing. My page only goes to 100 years.

“Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months.

“I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

Throughout the sentencing hearing overseen by Judge Aquilina, which was to decide how long Nassar, 54, should serve for state sexual assault charges, she has been feted for the agency which she gave the victims of the disgraced doctor.

Nassar had already received a 60-year federal sentence for a child pornography conviction, and had pleaded guilty to molesting seven girls in his care at Michigan State University, where he treated athletes.

But at the beginning of the sentencing hearing, where victims of Nassar would deliver victim impact statements detailing how his abuse had affected their lives, Judge Aquilina vowed to let every woman who came forward wishing to speak have the opportunity.

In all, 156 women came forward, including US Olympic gymnast gold medallists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Simone Biles.

“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice,” Ms Raisman said last Friday. “Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only just beginning to use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve: a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”

But Judge Aquilina didn’t just provide the space for Nassar’s accusers – she also praised their bravery in terms unusual for a courtroom setting.

After gymnast Bailey Lorencen gave her statement, Judge Aquilina said: “The military has not yet come up with fibre as strong as you. Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”

To Taylor Cole, a woman who revealed how she now suffers from lack of sleep because of Nassar, Judge Aquilina said: “Push away those nightmares. He’s gone. Your words replace what he’s done to you."

And to another, she said: “Leave your pain here and go out and do your magnificent things.”

After the final victim impact statement was read out on Wednesday morning by Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, Judge Aqulina delivered the following response, after which the court rose to applaud Mrs Denhollander: “Your words are the right words, you didn't just build a file, you built an army of survivors and you are its five-star general. You started the tidal wave, you made all of this happen. You made all of these voices matter. You are the greatest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”

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