Seven of the women and girls who say they were sexually abused by a former sports doctor will begin testifying against him next week.
Dr. Larry Nassar was a renowned physician and professor at Michigan State University, as well as the head physician for the Women's US Olympic Gymnastics team. Now he’s facing multiple criminal charges, including several felony sexual assault charges in Ingham County’s 55th District Court.
That case involves seven alleged victims, some of whom are still minors, who each claim Nassar abused them under the guise of treatment.
All but one are hoping to keep their identities private, even as they plan to testify in court, starting with a preliminary exam scheduled for May 12th.
They’re identified in court filings as Victims A through G. One of them, Rachael Denhollander, went public with her accusations in September of 2016, setting off dozens of similar complaints from more than 80 alleged victims.
But the other six, who say they were assaulted between the ages of 10-15, requested courtroom access be limited during their testimony.
“Many of these young women and their families have some concerns about going forward, about the sheer volume of media attention in this case,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said in court on Monday. “It is something that’s concerning to them, that they won’t be able to keep their anonymity, that their privacy will somehow be invaded.
“And my concern is that without this type of restriction and this order, victims may not want to participate in this process. Or may be reluctant in some way of speaking and testifying in an open court.”
Povilaitis asked Judge Donald Allen to adopt the restrictions that another judge in Eaton County has already put in place: just lawyers, one support person for the alleged victim, and one print reporter allowed in the courtroom during that sensitive testimony.
Judge Allen says he’s sympathetic to the alleged victims’ concerns, but needs to balance that with the public’s right to access and information – something he says they often get from the media.
“I just want to try and keep my options open,” Judge Allen said Monday.
So for now, he’s going to allow full access during each of the alleged victims’ testimony – even the minors. But, he says, that could change if witnesses “look like they’re terrorized by having a camera in the courtroom. Maybe we’ll be just print media.”
There is one exception: “Victim A” is also testifying in the Eaton County criminal case against Nassar, where access has already been restricted. Allen says he’ll “walk in lock step” with those restrictions during her testimony, too, keeping it to just lawyers, a support person, and one print reporter.
This post has been edited to correct the spelling of Rachael Denhollander's name. It's Rachael, not Rachel.