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Larry Nassar Sentenced To Up To 175 Years After 150 Women Share Stories Of Abuse


My monster is finally gone. That's what one survivor said in court today as Larry Nassar, the former Olympic gymnastics doctor, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. He was convicted of sexually abusing patients under the guise of giving them medical treatment. And the sentencing today caps an extraordinary week. More than 150 women and girls came forward to share brutal stories about abuse by a man they trusted and about the institutions that failed to protect them. Michigan Radio's Kate Wells has been in the courtroom, and she joins us now.

Hi, Kate.


CHANG: It sounded like a pretty remarkable final day in court. Have you been able to talk to any of the survivors? How have they been reacting?

WELLS: Yeah, there was a huge reaction when that sentence came down. There was a giant standing ovation in the courtroom, a lot of embraces, a lot of crying, joy, shock, relief. I mean, it is still really sinking in for the women that I've talked to and for their families that after this living hell that they have been going through, they have finally confronted this man who abused them, and they have been heard and believed at last. And you mentioned that we heard from 150 women - more than 150 women. You know, we started this out last week thinking that we were going to hear from about 80 women.


WELLS: But every single day, more women and girls were contacting the prosecutor's office and saying, you know what? I didn't want to come public before, but I'm hearing these women, and I do now.

CHANG: And...

WELLS: That's how we got to 150.

CHANG: And the judge, Rosemarie Aquilina - she's been allowing for everyone to be heard. Can you tell us a little bit about how she ran her courtroom during this extremely long sentencing hearing?

WELLS: Yeah. Well, like you said, she cleared seven days of her docket and let each and every single one of these women and girls come forward on their own time and confront Larry Nassar. And she really responded personally to each and every single person who got up there, telling them how powerful they were. With Rachael Denhollander, the woman who was the first to come publicly forward about Nassar, Judge Aquilina told her, you are the bravest woman I've ever had in my courtroom.

CHANG: Well, we also heard from Larry Nassar himself. He spoke before he was sentenced today. Let's take a listen to a little bit of that.


LARRY NASSAR: An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and convey. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.

CHANG: That is actually the first direct apology any of the victims ever received from him. How did they respond to that piece of what happened today?

WELLS: So while Nassar is apologizing, it was pretty emotional. You heard women just break into these open sobbing. But then as soon as he finished, Judge Aquilina said, you know what? I don't believe you. I'm going to read a letter that you sent the court before this hearing about how you are totally innocent, you have been forced into this plea deal. Nassar's letter even used the phrase, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.


WELLS: That got audible gasps from the courtroom. And Aquilina says this letter is what she took into consideration in part when she handed down this sentence of 40 to 175 years.


ROSEMARIE AQUILINA: I've just signed your death warrant. I find that you don't get it that you're a danger. You remain a danger.

CHANG: I mean, these women have been trying to be heard for something like 20 years, right? I can't imagine what it was like today to process finally being heard.

WELLS: You know, Rachael...

CHANG: Did anyone speak about that?

WELLS: Yeah. Sorry. Rachael Denhollander said it best when she spoke at the end. She was the first to come forward, the last to address Nassar. And she said, this is what it looks like when adults don't believe children, when institutions fail them.


RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER: This is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable.

CHANG: Wow. It sounds like a really remarkable final day in court. Thank you so much. That's Michigan Radio's Kate Wells.

WELLS: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."