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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor ordered to stand trial on sexual assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A sports doctor who treated female gymnasts at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics was ordered to stand trial Friday after a woman described how he sexually abused her for years during her childhood.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. found there was enough evidence to warrant a trial for Dr. Larry Nassar on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Separately, dozens of women and girls — many of them gymnasts — have come forward and accused Nassar of molesting them when they went to him for treatment as far back as the 1990s. He is also facing federal child porn charges.

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WHO IS NASSAR?

Nassar, 53, received a medical degree from Michigan State in 1993 and returned to teach and become doctor for the women’s gymnastics team. More than 80 percent of his patients were gymnasts, dancers and cheerleaders, including many who didn’t go to MSU.

He also was a doctor for nearly 30 years with Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He attended team camps and meets all over the world. Nassar quit in 2015 after an internal investigation related to a female athlete’s concerns about him.

The organization went to federal authorities a month after the investigation began, not immediately as it had previously stated. The timeline was changed after a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Nassar hasn’t commented directly, but his lawyers have denied the allegations against him.

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WHAT ARE THE CRIMINAL CASES?

Nassar faces charges in two cases so far, although they’re not related to his work with athletes.

The 25-year-old woman who testified Friday said her parents were friends with Nassar and that he repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing. She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it.

“My parents chose to believe him over me,” she told the judge.

The woman talked to police last year after seeing a newspaper report of similar allegations against Nassar. Police are investigating more abuse complaints. There is no statute of limitations in Michigan for certain sex crimes committed after 2001.

In federal court, Nassar is charged with possessing thousands of images of child pornography and trying to destroy possible evidence.

“Either you’ve got it or you don’t. It’s very difficult to fight and the penalties are severe,” former federal prosecutor John Smietanka said of child porn charges.

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WHAT IS HAPPENING AT MICHIGAN STATE?

Nassar, who had a campus clinic, was fired in September. Women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages suddenly quit Wednesday, a day after she was suspended for defending Nassar during a team meeting months ago.

In lawsuits against the doctor, at least two women said Klages downplayed their complaints about him when they were part of a gymnastics youth group at MSU in the late 1990s. An attorney for the coach said Klages would never put athletes in “harm’s way.”

MSU said it had received only two formal complaints about Nassar, including one in 2014; no charges were filed then. A second complaint last summer led to a broader police investigation, which is ongoing. President Lou Anna Simon recently called Nassar’s behavior “criminal and repugnant.”

“If anybody thinks this stops at the gymnastics coach, they’re smoking some pretty good dope,” said John Manly, an attorney for more than 40 women or girls who are suing Nassar or are planning to do so. “Sexual abuse of this magnitude doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

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WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE LAWSUITS?

More females who say they’re victims have been added to lawsuits each week. The largest case is in federal court in western Michigan, and it names Nassar, MSU and USA Gymnastics as defendants.

USA Gymnastics won’t comment on specific allegations, but it says it’s “appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.” The lawsuits accuse MSU of failing to do more to prevent assaults.

The school also won’t address specific allegations. There is an ongoing internal review of all aspects of Nassar’s work.

South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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South Korea said the rival Koreas agreed to form their first joint Olympic team and have their athletes march together during the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the Koreas reached the agreement during talks Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom.

It said athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the Opening Ceremony and will field a single women’s hockey team.

The measures require approval by the International Olympic Committee. The South Korean ministry says the two Koreas will consult with the IOC this weekend.

The two Koreas marched together behind a unification flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

North Korea has no qualified athletes for the PyeongChang Olympics, but the IOC can invite athletes and could do so after this weekend’s meeting.

A pairs figure skating team qualified an Olympic quota spot for North Korea last fall, but the spot was given up after North Korea’s Olympic Committee did not accept the spot before a deadline.

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Larry Nassar hears testimony at sentencing: ‘You are a repulsive liar’

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma Larry Nassar inflicted on them as children — one with the warning that “little girls don’t stay little forever.”

Nearly 100 women and girls planned to speak or have their statements read during an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing.

Many of them cried as they gave the initial testimonies Tuesday.

Some requested that their identities not be made public. The judge consoled the victims and said they should not blame themselves.

“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar,” one victim, Kyle Stephens, said to the 54-year-old Nassar who bowed his head with his eyes closed or looked away as she and others spoke.

Stephens, the first to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing.

She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it, and her parents believed him.

“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that … destroy your world.”

Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club.

He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.

“It all started with him,” she said, describing her daughter’s downward spiral into drug abuse.

Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment.

They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts and anger and anxiety on whether they should have spoken up sooner.

“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence Friday, said the system had failed them.

“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”

The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 to 125 years in prison for the 54-year-old Nassar.

The maximum represents a year for each of the 125 girls and women who filed reports of abuse with campus police. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles on Monday said she was among the athletes sexually abused by Nassar.

Another gold medalist, Aly Raisman, tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”

Olympians McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas also have said they were among Nassar’s victims as teens.

In November, he admitted to digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015.

As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.

Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced in Eaton County in two weeks.