Abuse victims return for Nassar’s final sentencing hearing

Dr. Larry Nassar is escorted into court during the seventh day of his sentencing hearing Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Lansing, Mich. Nassar has admitted sexually assaulting athletes when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which is the sport's national governing organization and trains Olympians. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (AP) — Larry Nassar appeared Wednesday in a Michigan courtroom for the start of his third and final sentencing hearing, and a judge said that 265 people have come forward to say they were abused by the disgraced former gymnastics doctor.

That number included both the 150-plus victims who offered statements at a different hearing last week, as well as scores of new ones who are expected to speak over the next few days.

Nassar, who has already been sentenced on child-pornography charges and charges that he abused young women and girls while working at Michigan State University, faces another prison sentence for molesting gymnasts at an elite Michigan club run by an Olympic coach.

“You are most vile, disgusting creature I have ever met,” said Katherine Ebert, who was a gymnast from 5 to 18 and started seeing Nassar at 15. “There are black holes in my memory that come back as nightmares or flashbacks, not wanting to believe they’re true.”

Nassar sat at a table with his lawyers as accusers confronted him.

“You took advantage of my innocence and trust,” 17-year-old Jessica Thomashow said. “You were my doctor. Why? I ask myself that question all the time. What you did to me was twisted. You manipulated me and my entire family. How dare you.”

Judge Janice Cunningham has set aside several days for more than 60 women and girls who want to confront Nassar or have their statement read in the courtroom in Charlotte, a city outside Lansing.

The event could unfold much the same as last week’s proceedings in another county. That hearing ended with Nassar getting to 40 to 175 years in prison, a sentence that judge described as Nassar’s “death warrant.”

The case on Cunningham’s docket Wednesday in Eaton County centers 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.

Annie Labrie said what Nassar did to her made her “skin crawl,” but every adult around her assured her he was the only option, and she hid the abuse from her parents. She said Nassar’s pedophilia was not an isolated incident, and gymnastics and gyms like Twistars have a “specific culture” that allows people like him to flourish.

So far, 65 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 court last week. 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,” 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,” Grewal said, referring to boys who said they were sexually abused by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Also Wednesday, former Michigan Gov. John Engler was named interim president at Michigan State, following Lou Anna Simon’s resignation last week from the school’s top post. 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.

Engler, a Republican who was governor from 1990 through 2002, said he would not be political as the university deals with the Nassar scandal and that his effort to make changes “starts today.”

Trustees also named another former governor, Democrat Jim Blanchard, to advise the school on lawsuits and investigations.

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