A defense attorney who represented Larry Nassar during a trial and subsequent sentencing hearing said Thursday that she does not think the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor could have abused all the women who have registered complaints against him.
Shannon Smith, a Michigan-based attorney who specializes in defending people accused of major sex crimes, suggested that the huge publicity generated by Nassar’s seven-day hearing, in which over 160 girls, women and parents testified to the pain he inflicted, caused some former patients to suddenly think differently about the “legitimate medical treatment” he provided them and decide that they, too, had been victimized.
Smith was speaking on Detroit’s WWJ NewsRadio 950 when she said, “Between you and me, there is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him.”
“I believe that what happened, while there may be some that were victimized — and certainly [as] a part of the plea agreement — there are others who have come to believe they were victimized because of the way the case spun, in a way, out of control,” Smith added.
Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in state prison last week after pleading guilty in November to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. He is being sentenced in another Michigan county’s courtroom this week after pleading guilty to three similar counts, and dozens more accusers are taking the opportunity to confront him.
The Michigan attorney general’s office (via the Lansing State Journal) counts 256 girls and women who have made complaints about Nassar to law enforcement, with more still coming in. Smith, though, told WWJ she had “a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people, day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it,” She added, “I just can’t imagine that’s true.”
“There was no way there could have been so much,” Smith told ESPN. “Larry would have to have been doing this all day, every day, with no one catching on. This is a guy who put child pornography in a trash can. He’s not a savvy guy.”
In December, Nassar was sentenced to a 60-year prison term on three counts related to child pornography, after investigators recovered hard drives he had tried to wipe clean in a trash bin near his home. Smith told the Detroit station that the fact that “there was also a lot of child pornography that could not be refuted” played a factor in his decision to plead guilty to the state charges, despite his insistence that his methods were legitimate.
In a letter to Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, portions of which she read during last week’s sentencing, Nassar said, “I was a good doctor because my treatments worked, and those patients that are now speaking out were the same ones that praised and came back over and over, and referred family and friends to see me. The media convinced them that everything I did was wrong and bad. They feel I broke their trust.”
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” Aquilina quoted Nassar as having written, to an audibly shocked reaction by some attending the hearing.
On Thursday, Smith told WWJ, “I think Larry Nassar comes off as a really great person. There is no doubt he did a lot of good for a lot of his patients. While people are criticizing the techniques he used, there is undeniably proof that those techniques would take a girl who came into his office unable to walk, and fix her in a way that she was able to compete the next day. So, I see good in Larry Nassar.”
“There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas, and even penetrations,” Smith claimed.
Later in the interview, she said of some of her client’s accusers, “As much as they were allowed to speak at sentencing, and that was something we agreed to, even during the sentencing, more and more people were coming forward, thinking, ‘I was fine my whole life and now all of a sudden I have realized I was a survivor.’ I think that’s really sad.”
In a statement released Thursday through another of his defense attorneys, Nassar distanced himself from Smith’s remarks. “I was not aware that these statements were going to be made nor did I authorize them,” he said.
“As I have repeatedly said under oath, the plea agreements are accurate and I have, through my lawyers, asked that the court follow them,” Nassar continued in his statement. “I have heard each and every impact statement made by the victims in my cases.
“Their words have been meaningful, they have pierced my soul and I will carry their words with me for the rest of my life. I am sorry about this distraction at a time when the attention should be on the statements of these victims.”
Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016 and the final person to make a victim impact statement last week, was also one of the women whose account provided the basis for a charge on which the former physician was convicted. At a preliminary hearing last year, Smith had questioned Denhollander’s motives in coming forward and suggested that the former gymnast was looking for financial gain.
Smith and Denhollander briefly sparred in court last week, and on Thursday Denhollander said in a statement (via the Lansing State Journal), “The level of willful ignorance displayed by Shannon Smith, ignorance of medical procedure, ignorance of the dynamics of sexual assault, and ignorance of her own client, is beyond the pale.”
“It was clear during court appearances, as she was taking photos and posing for the press, that sexual assault was nothing more than an opportunity for a photo op and self-promotion,” Denhollander said of Smith. “She proves that again today. Fortunately, nothing Ms. Smith says is capable of changing the truth, and the truth is readily apparent for anyone who wishes to know.”
In her radio interview, Smith said she had “no problem representing somebody like Larry Nassar,” adding, “I actually feel like I get energized from the fact that other people don’t understand and don’t appreciate what our constitution is about.”
Of Nassar’s accusers, Smith told the station, “Some of those girls, to be quite frank, it was very obvious they didn’t even know what to think, because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.”
Read more from The Post: