By Ed White & David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – The final sentencing hearing began Wednesday for disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who will again be confronted by scores of victims as he faces another prison sentence for molesting gymnasts at an elite Michigan club run by an Olympic coach.
Judge Janice Cunningham has set aside several days for roughly 60 people who want to confront Nassar or have their statement read in court. The hearing could unfold much the same as a hearing last week in another county where a different judge allowed more than 150 women and girls to confront Nassar in court about his abuse.
That hearing ended with Nassar getting sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, with the judge describing it as Nassar’s “death warrant.”
The practice of allowing accusers to speak even if they are not tied directly to a case has raised questions about fairness. But attorneys say the victim statements probably pose little risk on appeal, especially since Nassar pleaded guilty, agreed to allow the statements and is expected to get another long prison sentence as part of his deal with prosecutors.
“If you get what you bargained for, then you really can’t argue that you were prejudiced in any way,” said Margaret Raben, former leader of a Michigan association of criminal defense attorneys.
It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to introduce “aggravating” evidence at sentencing to support their request for a severe punishment. But the parade of victims offering emotional accounts of their abuse to the face of an abuser went well beyond the typical hearing.
Raben said there was a “horrible dynamic” last week in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom, even if the judge had the option to allow so many people to speak in a case that involved just seven victims.
“Her obvious delight was just off the wall,” Raben said, referring to Aquilina’s “death warrant” remark and others. “I am not defending Larry Nassar at all, but what I saw with her was a real abandonment of judicial demeanor. … The process doesn’t change because everybody hates the defendant. That is the absolute glory, or should be, of the American justice system.”
A fellow Ingham County judge, William…