LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A former doctor accused of molesting girls while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison.
Larry Nassar, 54, admitted to abusing seven girls, mostly under the guise of treatment at his Lansing-area home and a campus clinic. All but one of his accusers was a gymnast. He faces similar charges in a neighboring county and lawsuits filed by more than 125 women and girls. Nassar lost his license to practice medicine in April.
Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas are among the women who have publicly said they were among Nassar’s victims.
Some of his accusers attended the hearing Wednesday in a packed Ingham County courtroom. Some were crying.
“For all those involved … I’m so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control,” Nassar said. “I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. I want them to heal. I want the community to heal.”
Nassar admitted to digitally penetrating the victims and agreed that his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.
“It is about time that Larry plead [sic] guilty and owned up to his actions,” was posted on Raisman’s social media. “I am beyond disgusted that a decorated Olympic and USA Gymnastics doctor was able to prey upon so many over such a long period of time. Until we fully understand the flaws in the system that allowed this to happen in the first place — and enabled it to continue for decades — we can’t be confident it won’t happen again. We need more than optimistic assurances, we need answers. We need to take a hard, honest look at the sport’s culture, governance, and leadership, so we can understand the problem, and come up with solutions that will make the sport safer for current and future generations. I am determined to work towards real and meaningful change. Abuse is never ok; ONE TIME IS TOO MANY AND ONE PERSON IS TOO MANY. We may never know how many others may be suffering in silence therefore it is important for us to have an environment where it is safe and comfortable for those to come forward.”
The plea deal in Ingham County calls for a minimum prison sentence of 25 years, but a judge could set the minimum sentence as high as 40 years. In Michigan, inmates are eligible for parole after serving a minimum sentence.
Sentencing was set for Jan. 12.
A prosecutor said 125 women and girls have filed complaints with Michigan State University police.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Nassar: “You used your position of trust … in the most vile way to abuse children. … I agree that now is a time of healing, but it may take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your lifetime behind bars thinking about what you did in taking away their childhood.”
She called the accusers “superheroes for all of America, because this is an epidemic.”
The girls have testified that Nassar molested them with his hands, sometimes when a parent was present in the room, while they sought help for gymnastics injuries.
After the hearing, one of the accusers, Larissa Boyce, said it was “really hard” to look at Nassar in the courtroom.
“This was a man we trusted. He’s admitting what he did was wrong and evil,” she said.
Separately, Nassar is charged with similar crimes in Eaton County, the location of an elite gymnastics club. He also is awaiting sentencing in federal court on child pornography charges.
The Michigan criminal cases against Nassar followed reports last year in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and coaches.
Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse, sometimes when their parents were in the exam room at Michigan State.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk