A high-profile sports doctor will spend at least 25 years in jail after admitting molesting young girls while working for America’s gymnastics governing body. He was accused by a group of more than 130 women.
Larry Nassar, 54, had originally pleaded not guilty when he was charged with multiple indictments relating to molesting seven girls.
Yet when he appeared in court in Lansing, Michigan, he admitted to the offences relating to his time while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.
The plea deal agreed with Nassar means he will be jailed for a minimum of 25 years, although a judge could set the minimum sentence as high as 40 years. In Michigan, inmates are eligible for parole after serving a minimum sentence.
In a statement, Nassar said he made the plea “to move the community forward and stop the hurting”. “I pray every day for forgiveness,” he said.
Yet some of those who accused him of abuse – among them Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas – expressed anger over how he was treated by the court.
Ms Raisman, 23, said on Twitter that hearing the court refer to Nassar as “doctor” made her feel disgusted. “I am very disappointed. He does not deserve that,” she wrote. “Larry is disgusting. Larry is a monster, not a doctor.”
The young women involved in the case have testified that Nassar molested them with his hands, sometimes even while one of their parents was present in the room. He did so after they turned to him for help with gymnastics injuries.
“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” assistant attorney general Angela Poviliatis told a judge last summer.
“Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”
The allegations of abuse date back 20 years. Nassar, who began serving as the squad’s official doctor in 1996, was fired in 2015 when USA gymnastics said it became aware of the claims made against him. In the spring of 2017, the organisation’s president, Steve Penny, resigned amid accusations of negligence.
Nassar’s arrest followed an Indianapolis Star investigation that became public just before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and which claimed USA Gymnastics routinely dismissed warnings and complaints of sexual abuse against dozens of coaches.
The investigation found that as many as 368 gymnasts had alleged sexual abuse over the past 20 years.
Nassar is due to be sentenced on 12 January, when his victims will have a chance to address the court.
“You used your position of trust in the most vile way – to abuse children,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Nassar
“I agree that now is a time of healing, but it may take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your life behind bars thinking of what you did by taking away their childhood.”
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