Disgraced sports doctor Nassar attacked in prison and deserves resentencing, lawyers say
Defence team claims comments by judge encouraged violence against their client
Larry Nassar's lawyers say the disgraced former sports doctor was assaulted within hours of being placed in the general population at the federal prison in Arizona where he is serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography possession.
Jacqueline McCann and Malaika Ramsey-Heath filed motions Tuesday seeking to have the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor resentenced in the first of two cases in which he pleaded guilty to molesting women and girls who sought treatment. The lawyers partly blamed the May prison attack on the rhetoric of the judge during that sentencing hearing.
During the seven-day sentencing in January, when at least 169 women and girls provided statements, Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina described Nassar as a "monster" who is "going to wither" like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. She said she would allow someone "to do to him what he did to others" if the Constitution allowed, and told Nassar she was signing his "death warrant" with the sentence she was giving him.
Nassar, 54, will likely never get out of prison. Once his 60-year federal term for child porn possession ends, he would begin serving the 40- to 175-year sentence in state prison that Aquilina gave him for the sexual assaults.
In their filing, Nassar's court-appointed public appellate defenders did not specify the nature or severity of the attack at the prison in Tucson, Ariz. But they accused Aquilina of using the nationally televised proceedings to "advance her own agenda" — advocating for policy initiatives and broader cultural change — and improperly agreeing to media interviews during the appeal period.
They also accused her of not stopping victims from denigrating Nassar's defence lawyers and allowing the proceedings to devolve into a "free-for-all" in which victims wished physical harm upon Nassar and accused other uncharged individuals with wrongdoing and crimes, as others in the courtroom called out in support.
Claim of judge bias
The lawyers wrote it was no surprise that one victim's father tried to attack Nassar at the sentencing hearing in his second molestation case in nearby Eaton County — where he was given a 40- to 125-year prison term — or that Nassar was assaulted in prison.
"Unfortunately, Judge Aquilina's comments and conducting of the sentencing proceeding appeared to encourage this type of behaviour," they wrote.
They said Nassar should be resentenced because Aquilina was neither unbiased nor impartial, arguing that while his plea deal called for a minimum of between 25 and 40 years, she clearly only considered a 40-year minimum.
McCann and Ramsey-Heath also argued there is no authority in Michigan law for her decision to start Nassar's sentence after his federal term instead of ordering them to run concurrently.
Aquilina declined to comment on the motions, which she is expected to consider at hearings in August.
Aquilina was widely praised for her treatment of the "sister survivors" and their parents at the sentencing proceeding, but some legal observers said at the time that her pointed comments could be grounds for an appeal.
After learning Wednesday of Nassar's request for resentencing, gymnast Kaylee Lorincz tweeted: "Hasn't Larry put us through enough? This is his way to try to be able to control and manipulate us all again. Good luck with that."
John Manly, a civil lawyer for roughly 200 of the victims in the worst sexual abuse case in sports history, tweeted that "blaming the judge for his attack is an outrageous allegation. That sounds like something a convicted predator would say. Not an officer of the court. Shame on them."
The State Appellate Defender Office, which was appointed to represent Nassar in his state court appeals, issued a statement saying all criminal defendants are entitled to due process.
"Closure is important for our clients, for the victims and for the system," the office said. "A full, fair and rigorous appeal is an essential step toward achieving such closure in this case."