Michigan appeals court upholds Larry Nassar sentencing

December 2020

  • Dan Murphy


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Larry Nassar’s long jail sentence for his crimes in Michigan was confirmed in a 2-1 state court decision Tuesday.

A former physician with the U.S. Gymnastics team and the Michigan State Department of Athletics has asked the justice system to overturn a 175-year prison sentence he received in January 2018 after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of his young patients. Nassar claimed that his sentencing judge, Ingham County Judge Rosemary Aquilina, had shown bias against him at his hearing and in subsequent public comments.

The judges of the Court of Appeal wrote Tuesday that Nassar’s argument does not meet the burden of proof to show that Aquilina is being wronged.

I am grateful that the defendant’s conviction was upheld and the request for a new trial denied, former Michigan Deputy Attorney General Angela Povilaitis, lead plaintiff in the Nassar case, said. Survivors showed extraordinary courage, strength and resilience in the conviction of January 2018, which continues to this day.

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Nassar’s imprisonment in Ingham County is one of three sentences the disgraced doctor served after hundreds of women reported sexually assaulting them, mostly under the guise of providing medical care. Nassar, 57, is currently serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography in a federal prison near Orlando, Florida.

In addition to 175 years in Ingham County, Nassar was also sentenced to 125 years in neighboring Eaton County. Nassar’s previous appeals from his federal and Eaton County convictions have also been dismissed.

Although the appeal judges did not conclude that Nassar deserved a new sentence, they nevertheless criticized Aquilina, who has become notorious since the verdict for her biting remarks from the judiciary and her public support for victims of sexual assault. Nassar criticized Aquilina for the amount of media attention she received during the hearing.

Of the three judges at the Court of Appeal, a dissenting opinion stated that ignoring Aquilina’s comments during the hearing called into question fundamental concepts such as judicial neutrality, due process, the right to advice and the use of social media by judges. The opposing judge stated that Aquilina’s role in the conviction was not to defend victims of sexual violence.

More than 150 women commented on the almost two-week hearing on the conviction in January 2018. Aquilina thanked most of the speakers and commented after each presentation. She also spoke to Nassar several times. She told Nassar that she had signed [her] death warrant and that laws prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments prevented her from imposing a harsher punishment.

Our constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment, Aquilina said at the hearing. If that were to happen, I have to say that what he did to all those beautiful souls, those young women in their childhood, I could have done to somebody or a lot of people what he did to others.

The two appeal court judges who rejected Nassar’s request for reconsideration said the remarks were totally inappropriate and constituted an inflammatory exaggeration. They expressed concern that such comments could undermine public confidence in the judicial system. They also said media appearances in Aquilina, including a visit to the ESPYS where the 2018 Arthur Ashe Award of Courage was presented to Nassar survivors, were inappropriate.

I stand by what I’ve done, Aquilina told ESPN Tuesday when she was asked about the appeal court’s decision. I’m the voice of the public, and that’s the judge’s opinion.

Aquilina stated that at the sentencing hearing in Ingham County, she did not exceed the legal limits of Nassar’s plea agreement and gave him ample opportunity to withdraw his application. With regard to the dissenting opinion of the judge on appeal, who wrote that she seemed prejudiced and expressed her personal solidarity with the victims, Aquilina stated that she did not regret her behaviour.

I’ve taken a few hits for doing what I do. But in the end it’s… If I know the effect of listening to people and letting them speak from both sides, if I see the positive effect of all this, I don’t regret it. Neither in this case, nor in any other, Aquilina told ESPN.

The judges who rejected Nassar’s application stated that the law does not require a judge to be lax after a suspect has pleaded guilty. They found that Aquilina’s comments, taken in context, show that she does not seek vengeful justice and does not seriously advocate damage to the physical integrity of Nassar. Aquilina told the Court of Appeal that her comments during the hearing were intended to defuse the tensions in the courtroom as spirits warmed over the accusations of Nassar violations.

When asked about the decision of the Court of Appeal, Jessica Zimbelman, one of the prosecutors of Nassar, replied to ESPN on Tuesday: We are pleased that at least one judge of the Court of Appeals has acknowledged that the Court of Appeals was not neutral, unfair, and biased, and we intend to appeal to the Supreme Court of [Michigan] within the next 56 days.

If the state’s top court decides not to hear Nassar’s appeal, it would end its criminal case in Michigan, Zimbelman said.

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