Sex assault victims ask judge to throw the book at ex-Olympic doctor Larry Nassar

Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sex assault victims ask judge to throw the book at ex-Olympic doctor Larry Nassar
Larry Nassar listens to victim impact statements prior to being sentenced, Jan. 16, 2018, in Lansing, Mich.

An onslaught of victims, many of them tearful and with voices tinged with anger and determination, confronted former USA Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday, telling him how he robbed them of their childhoods by using his position as a star physician to sexually assault them and scar them for life.

One by one, the victims stood at a podium in Ingram County Circuit Court in Lansing just feet from the man who molested them as children, some in front of their parents during medical examinations.

Standing beside her mother and father, Jade Capua, 17, told the court that she went to Nassar when she was just 13 after suffering an injury while performing gymnastics. She was led by her coaches into believing Nassar, 54, a former Michigan State University sports doctor, was a "miracle worker, who could fix anything."

"You violate the right to be called a doctor," Capua said, looking directly at Nassar.

She said that instead of helping her heal, Nassar committed acts of depravity on her.

"These acts were completely immoral and horrific, and I'm confident Mr. Nassar will get what he deserves," Capua said.

She ended her statement by rejecting the label of victim, saying, "I'm Jade Capua and I'm a survivor."

Prosecutors said they have scheduled 98 of 125 victims to address the court over the next four days. All said they were molested by Nassar, and about 20 addressed the court over a span of eight hours on Tuesday.

Nassar pleaded guilty in November to sexually assaulting seven girls, but Judge Rosemarie Anguilina is allowing many more victims to speak in court.

The disgraced doctor has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges. He has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 125 women and girls in civil lawsuits.

Among the young women who say they were molested by Nassar are Olympic medalists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Jamie Dantzscher. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles said on Monday that she, too, was sexually abused by Nassar.

"I too am one of the many survivors that was sexually abused by Larry Nassar," Biles, 20, said in a statement released on Twitter.

"I've felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams," she wrote. "I am not afraid to tell my story anymore."

The first to speak in court on Tuesday was Kyle Stephen, who said she was 6 years old when Nassar began abusing her.

"You convinced my parents that I was liar. You are a repulsive liar," Stephens said, fighting back tears. "Little girls don't stay little girls forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."

She said her father committed suicide after learning the truth of what Nassar did to her.

"You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable," she said.

She asked Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to sentence Nassar to up to 125 years in prison.

As the statements were being given, Nassar, wearing dark blue jail clothes, sat next to his attorney with his head buried in his hands or staring down, refusing to make eye contact with the victims. At times he dabbed his eyes with tissue, while other times he shook his head as if he disagreed with what was being said.

The majority of the victims spoke openly, publicly sharing their names for the first time. But several victims asked to remain anonymous, and others had prosecutors read their statements on their behalf.

Two of the victims were out of the country, but submitted video statements that were played in court. Some of the women, spoke with their husbands, brothers and parents at their side.

As many of them spoke, photos of them as children when they were molested by Nassar flashed on a large screen in the courtroom.

Among those to speak were:

-- Donna Markham, who sobbed at times as she told the court of her daughter Chelsea. She said she and her husband adopted Chelsea as a baby. She said her daughter was 10 years old when she suffered a lower back injury while participating in gymnastics, and committed suicide at the age of 23.

She said they were referred to Nassar, who treated Chelsea and molested her when she was just 12 years old. She said Nassar, like he did with many of his victims, secretly stuck his hands in her daughter's vagina while she was present in the examination room.

Markham said she didn't realize what happened to her daughter until after they left the exam, and the girl broke down in tears on the car ride home.

"She said, 'Mom he put his fingers in me and they were not gloved,'" Markham said, adding that her daughter pleaded with her not to turn around immediately and drive back to confront Nassar.

She said the effects of the assault were immediate. Her daughter began doing horribly in school and dropped out of the gymnastics program she loved when she was 13. She later began to abuse drugs before taking her life in 2009.

"This was a man who was supposed to be the best in his field. He was supposed to help her. He was supposed to help her heal," Markham said. "He didn't do that. He had the audacity to abuse her when I was right there in the room."

"Every day I miss her. Every day," she added. "And it all started with him. It just became worse and she just couldn't deal with it anymore."

-- Jessica Thomashow, 17, said Nassar molested her twice, once when she was 9 and again when she was 12. She said the attacks occurred when she went to him to be treated for a rib injury she suffered during gymnastics.

"He touched the most innocent parts of my body," Thomashow said.

Speaking directly to Nassar, she said, "What you did to me was twisted. You manipulated me and my family. How dare you."

She asked Aquilina to give Nassar the maximum sentence.

"He is a predator and he can't be stopped unless he is behind bars for the rest of his life," Thomashow said.

-- Alexis Moore said she went to Nassar at age 9 to be treated for a broken pelvis and ended up being abused repeatedly by him over the course of 10 years.

"For years, Mr. Nassar convinced me that he was the only person who could help me recover from multiple serious injuries," Moore said in court. "To me, he was like a knight in shining armor. But alas, that shine blinded me from the abuse. He betrayed my trust, took advantage of my youth and sexually abused me hundreds of times."

-- Nicole Soos, speaking with her husband next to her, said Nassar destroyed her dreams of becoming an expert figure skater and recalled the first time he assaulted her, saying, "I lay there in pain, unable to speak, staring at the wall."

Soos added, "I thought he was a famous doctor. There was no way he would do anything inappropriately in front of my mom. I was wrong."

-- Ashley Erickson, appearing with her two brothers at her side, told Nassar, "It has been hell. I put my family and friends through hell. I have no trust for anyone because you took that away from me."

-- Megan Halicek said she was 15 when Nassar molested her and described feeling "petrified to paralysis."

"My innocence was ruthlessly taken away from me, never to be returned," Halicek said. "The most confusing part was that my mother was in the room when this happened. This sickens and continues to baffle me until this day."

Like many of the others, Halicek said she battles paranoid, anxiety, insomnia and has to sleep with a nightlight on.

-- Bethany Bauman, 31, spoke with tears streaming down her cheeks, saying she has "vivid memories" of the repeated assaults that occurred in Nassar's examination room.

"Having to relive my experiences over and over almost 20 years later bring back so many memories and emotions," she said. "I even avoid talking about it with those close to me because I get closed off and irritable."

-- Lindsey Schuett, 34, who lives and works in South Korea, was one of those who sent in a video statement. She said she was 16 when Nassar molested her and that she "knew immediately that it was abuse.

"I felt like I was trapped in some hellish situation that only a movie could dream up," Schuett said.

She said she told her mother and school counselor, but Nassar convinced them she misunderstood what he described as a valid treatment. She said she was sent back to him despite her objections.

She said that when Nassar penetrated her again with an ungloved hand, she screamed as loud as she could to "let everyone know that something was incredibly wrong in that doctor's office." After that, she said Nassar didn't want anything to do with her and sent her to see a female doctor.

Judge Aquilina praised the victims for the bravery to speak out in court, and called all of them strong women.

"You talk about being broken. Well, he's going to break while you are healing," Aquilina said. "Don't let this define you, any of you. Go out and do great things in the world."

She likened Nassar to the wicked witch in the movie "The Wizard of Oz."

"The monster who took advantage of you is going to wither, much like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the water was poured on the witch and she withers away," she said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State University.

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