PHOTOS: Victims give emotional testimony as sentencing begins for Larry Nassar
For hours, they kept stepping before the court, one after another, more than two dozen women and girls speaking directly to the man who sexually abused them as children.
“I’ve been coming for you for a long time,” Kyle Stephens told Larry Nassar, her mother crying beside her.
“I gave your name to counselors, hoping they would report you. I complained about you to Child Protective Services twice.… You were first arrested on my charges. Perhaps you’ve figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They become strong women who grow up to destroy your world.”
Stephens is one of 98 victims expected to address the court this week. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has cleared four days for Nassar’s sentencing. Ashen and hunched over, the former Olympic women’s gymnastics doctor sat feet away from victims in the witness stand, wearing a faded blue prison jumpsuit and orange Crocs.
Donna Markham recalled how her daughter Chelsea was abused by Nassar during a medical appointment. Chelsea took her own life at age 23, a weeping Markham told the court. “And every day I miss her. And it all started with him. It all started with him. It just became worse, as the years went by, until she just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct – all for victims under the age of 15. His plea came as part of a deal with prosecutors, which guarantees the state a conviction without dragging victims through an uncertain jury trial. In return, Nassar can withdraw his plea if the judge gives him more than 25-40 years.
Today, Judge Aquilina told the court she’ll stick to that plea deal – not because she likes it, Aqulina told the court, but because she knows the victims in this case need “closure.” Last month, Nassar received 60 years on separate charges of child pornography possession. “The defendant will be spending the rest of his life behind bars,” Aquilina assured victims.
Below are photos and parts of statements from the sentencing hearing:
Larry Nassar enters the courtroom for the first day of his sentencing hearing. Nassar pleaded guilty to multiple first degree charges of criminal sexual misconduct. The prosecution is calling for a sentencing of 40 to 125 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. According to court documents, this would represent "one year for every victim contemplated by the plea agreement."
Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography.
Kyle Stephens explains how Nassar abused her from the age of six until she was 12. Her family and the Nassars were close friends, and Stephens said her parents did not believe her accusations against Nassar for years. Her father committed suicide in 2016.
"Sexual abuse is so much more than a physical act," Stephens said.
Donna Markham broke down as she told her daughter, Chelsea's story. When she hurt her back at gymnastics practice in 1995, 10-year-old Chelsea began seeing Nassar for treatment. Donna recalled her daughter telling her, "'Mom, he put his fingers inside me and they weren't gloved. Mom, he hurt me.'" Chelsea took her own life in 2009, at the age of 23.
"Every day, I miss her. I miss her. And it all started with him."
Jade Capua is only 17 years old, but asked that her testimony be public. "I couldn't help but fear that people were going to look at me differently," she said. "And this is something that I did not ask to happen to me. [...] I am Jade Capua. And I am a survivor."
Olivia Cowan cries as she gives her testimony. Now a mother of two, she told Nassar, "I will educate my children about monsters like you, and pray to God they will never experience pain like this."
Cowan also questioned Michigan State University's complicity in Nassar's actions, saying, "Where were you when we needed you? Lou Anna Simon and the Board of Trustees, all the signs were there ... you failed all of us."
Danielle Moore recounts how the abuse has affected her. She didn't attend commencement for her master's programs, because she "didn't deserve the praise." She also engaged in self-harm, and stayed in abusive relationships "long after I should have run."
"Mr. Nassar," she said, "I feel worthless because of what you did to me.... I want you to be remorseful. However, I don't believe you're capable of this kind of empathy."
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina listens to a victim's testimony.
After Danielle Moore's testimony, Aquilina told her, "You are worthy. All these people are here in support of you. You are a worthwhile human being. You need to feel worthy."
Jennifer Rood-Bedford recalled that among her MSU volleyball teammates, Nassar was known as the "crotch doc." Bedford explained that she battles with the guilt of not making a formal complaint against Nassar at the time.
"I am a warrior," Bedford said. "I know the end of my story: I will win."
Former figure skater Nicole Soos testifies with her husband by her side. "Something has gone seriously wrong at MSU," she said. Soos asked for the school to "take responsibility for their role" in this case.
She added, "I am strong, but we are even stronger together."