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Kentucky lawyer last of gymnastics doctor’s victims to testify

January 24, 2018

One of the first athletes to accuse Larry Nassar of sexual assault confronted him Wednesday in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom where the former sports doctor was due to be sentenced for years of molesting Olympic gymnasts and other young women.

The last of more than 150 victims to offer statements at Nassar’s sentencing hearing was a Kentucky lawyer who stepped forward in 2016 after Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics was accused of mishandling complaints of sexual assault.

Rachael Denhollander said Nassar groped, fondled and penetrated her with his hands when she was a 15-year-old gymnast in Michigan. Denhollander’s statements to Michigan State University police put the criminal investigation in high gear in 2016.

“You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires,” she told Nassar, who worked at the university and USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, which also trains Olympians.

Nassar faces a minimum prison term of 25-40 years when he is sentenced later Wednesday by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

The sentence will cap a remarkable seven-day hearing that has given the girls, young women and their parents a chance to confront the doctor in court.

Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to assaulting seven people in the Lansing area, but the sentencing hearing has been open to anyone who said they were a victim. His accusers said he would use his ungloved hands to penetrate them, often without explanation, while they were on a table seeking help for various injuries.

The accusers, many of whom were children, said they trusted Nassar to care for them properly, were in denial about what was happening or were afraid to speak up. He sometimes used a sheet or his body to block the view of any parent in the room.

“I’d been told during my entire gymnastics career to not question authority,” a former elite gymnast, Isabell Hutchins, said Tuesday.

The judge is likely to be unsparing in her treatment of Nassar. Aquilina has praised the victims who have appeared in her court since Jan. 16, calling them “sister survivors,” while also assuring them that their perpetrator will pay. The women have included Olympians Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.

“Your words are vital. They are as strong as your martial arts,” Aquilina told Christina Barba, who has known Nassar for decades and practices karate. “They will take him down quicker and cleaner than any kick you’ve got.”

Hutchins and Mattie Larson, a former national gymnast, talked about how Nassar won their allegiance with candy, Olympic trinkets and encouraging words while they were under constant scrutiny from their demanding coaches.

Brooke Hylek, a gymnast who plans to compete in college, heaped scorn on Nassar.

“I cannot believe I ever trusted you, and I will never forgive you,” she said Tuesday. “I’m happy you will be spending the rest of your life in prison. Enjoy hell by the way.”

Emily Morales had a softer message.

“I want you to apologize to me right here,” the 18-year-old told Nassar. “I want to forgive you, but I also want to hear you tell me that you regret all the hurting you caused.”

He did. She replied with, “Thank you.”

Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week on more assault convictions in Eaton County, Michigan.

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