Ex-Gymnastics Doctor Gets 60 Years for Child Porn

Former sports doctor Larry Nassar, left, stands with his attorney Shannon Smith as he pleads guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Eaton County, Mich. (Matthew Dae /Lansing State Journal via AP)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – The team doctor accused of sexually abusing dozens of young athletes on the U.S. gymnastics team and at Michigan State University was sentenced Thursday to 60 years on child pornography charges, and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Larry Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty in July to receiving child pornography and destroying and concealing evidence at his Holt, Mich., home. Last month, he also entered a guilty to plea to molesting seven girls. More than 140 women and girls have accused him of sexual assault over three decades. Among his alleged victims are Olympic gold medal winners Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney.

“It’s imperative Mr. Nassar be deterred as long as possible,” U.S. District Judge Janet Neff said at Thursday’s sentencing hearing, according to reports. ”Mr. Nassar was, is and, in my view, will continue to be a danger to children. He has demonstrated that he should never again have access to children.”

Nassar will return next year to state court for sentencing on the sexual assault charges. Once a respected physician, Nassar was arrested last year in the culmination of an investigation that was sparked when gymnast Rachael Denhollander alleged that Nassar had assaulted her when she came to him complaining of back pain as a 15-year-old in Michigan.

Between 2003 and 2016, Nassar downloaded thousands of images of child pornography, with forensic investigators uncovering more than 37,000 images, according to court records. The images included infants and depicted adult men anally raping prepubescent children and engaging in other sexual acts.

Nassar admitted to trying to destroy and conceal evidence related to the charges in September 2016. Prosecutors said he had wiped his work laptop, and thrown away several hard drives. Authorities recovered the drives from a trash truck the same day a search warrant was executed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a sentencing memo filed Nov. 30.

Neff sentenced Nassar to 20 years to be served consecutively on three counts – receipt and attempted receipt of child pornography, possession of child pornography, and destruction and concealment of records and tangible objects. She ordered him to pay $57,488.52 in restitution and a special assessment of $5,300.

In the government’s sentencing memo, prosecutors had urged Neff to sentence Nassar to the statutory maximum of 60 years in federal prison.

“The defendant has led a double-life. On the surface, he was a respected, world-renowned expert for elite athletes. He was a medical doctor, a husband, and a father. But underneath this veneer lurked a predator. For 20 years, the defendant used his position and authority to sexually exploit children. He took advantage of almost every opportunity to do so,” the memo states.

In pushing for a lighter sentence, Nassar told the judge on Thursday that he had been “battling with this disease for a considerable period of time” and compared his travails to those of an alcoholic.

“I really did try to be a good person,” Nassar said. “I really tried to help people.”

Nassar’s attorney Shannon Smith wrote in his sentencing memo that while Nassar did not want to minimize his crimes, he wanted to make “positive changes in his life” and move forward.

She said that Nassar had helped three inmates complete their GED and pointed to several letters of support from relatives who asserted that he was a good doctor and caring individual.

“Nassar is in no way trying to escape responsibility for his past actions, and he deeply regrets the pain that he has caused the community, as well as his family and friends. He wants nothing more than to make amends and move forward in a healthy, productive way,” Smith wrote.

The names of Nassar’s family members were redacted in court filings. But in one, his sister said that Nassar’s oldest daughter had autism and that he had helped create a fundraising program for students with the disorder.

His brother-in-law called him a “brilliant doctor in working with sports related injuries” and said that “many of his accusers praised him for eliminating pain.”

“He continues to be upbeat and has written a book while incarcerated,” Nassar’s brother-in-law wrote.

But in an article in The Players’ Tribune, the Olympic gymnast Raisman said that Nassar had used his position as a doctor to gain her trust and had devastated his victims’ lives.

Nassar had read a statement after he entered his plea, but Raisman said the court had not been permitted to read her letter and that she was disappointed when the judge said she would read the statements in private. She shared her statement online Thursday.

“Realizing that you are a victim of sexual abuse is a horrible feeling. Words cannot adequately capture the level of disgust I feel when I think about how this happened. Larry abused his power and the trust I and so many others placed in him, and I am not sure I will ever come to terms with how horribly he manipulated and violated me,” Raisman wrote.

Proceedings in Neff’s courtroom began a little before 11 a.m. Thursday and lasted about an hour.

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