MASON, Mich. — A judge on Friday ordered a longtime doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting six young gymnasts who said he molested them while they were seeking treatment for various injuries.
Judge Donald Allen Jr. made his decision after hearing testimony from the alleged victims over two days and watching a campus police interview of Dr. Larry Nassar.
It is one of four Michigan criminal cases against Nassar following 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.
"He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment," Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told the judge. "Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?"
Nassar didn't testify nor did his lawyers offer an argument against sending the case to trial. The legal threshold in Michigan is probable cause, a low standard at the initial stages of a criminal case.
The final evidence Friday was a video of Nassar's 40-minute interview last August with a Michigan State police detective, who was investigating a complaint from a former gymnast, now in her 30s. He was not under arrest and spoke voluntarily.
Nassar denied any inappropriate contact and said he got no sexual pleasure from treating gymnasts. He said if he had an erection, as a gymnast claimed, "that's rather embarrassing."
The camera was above Nassar's head. He repeatedly moved his arms and hands as he explained his techniques, using phrases such as "lift and shift" and "tissue tension" to describe treatments for back and hip injuries. He sighed, scratched his forehead and appeared frustrated with the allegations against him.
"I'm trying my best to help the patient. I'm trying to get real-time feedback. I don't want to hurt someone," Nassar told Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford.
The judge watched the video and later noted that Nassar had put his fingers in a position that matched the testimony of one of the alleged victims, who said the doctor had penetrated her with his hands in 2000.
"Every victim who testified was unambiguous" about being molested, Poviliatis said. "They were clear and consistent and precise."
Outside of the criminal cases, Nassar and Michigan State are being sued by dozens of women and girls. Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics also is a defendant in some of the lawsuits.
Nassar will appear in court in Eaton County next Friday on assault charges involving two more gymnasts. He's separately charged in federal court in Grand Rapids with possessing child pornography.
Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwhiteap
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