LANSING, Mich. – Doctor Lawrence Nassar pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexually assaulting young athletes including some girls under the age of 13.
Nassar, 54, originally was charged with more than 20 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and was scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 4. Instead he agreed to a plea deal that could get him a minimum prison sentence of 25 years. The maximum sentence he could face is life in prison.
The prosecution said Nassar used his position of authority to coerce young women and girls, some under the age of 13, to allow him to sexually penetrate them with his fingers. Nassar admitted to this during the plea hearing. He said he was not earing a glove at the time and admitted he did not do this for any medical reason.
Nassar offered a statement of remorse and told the court he hopes his guilty plea will help the community move forward and heal.
"I think this is important, that what I've done today, to help move a community forward and away from the hurting, and let the healing start. That's a couple things that I can do to stop the hurting is this. And I think that's important," he said. "For all those involved ... I'm so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control. I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness ... I want them to heal. I want this community to heal. I have no animosity towards anyone. I just want healing, it's time. I guess that's the biggest thing. We need to move forward in a sense of growth and healing, and I pray that."
Overall, Nassar agreed to plead guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. In exchange, the prosecution will dismiss all other charges and the Attorney General's office would not prosecute Nassar for any other criminal sexual conduct cases reported to police. Nassar also must be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2018. The judge said victims -- all 125 of them -- will be allowed to speak. It is expected to last all day and will continue until all victims have a chance to speak, said Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
Olympic gymnasts come forward
Nassar's court appearance Wednesday was just a day after another gymnast came forward with accusations. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas said she's also a victim of sexual abuse from Nassar. She posted to Instagram:
"I didn't publicly share my experiences as well as many other things because for years we were conditioned to stay silent and honestly some things were extremely painful."
Douglas is the third member of the USA's gold-winning 2012 Olympic team to come forward. Ally Raisman called Nassar a monster.
"I think he's a monster and I think it's so disturbing what he did to me and to so many other people. This is so much bigger than just me. It's a such a horrifying thing to happen," said Raisman.
Nassar is accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of girls while he served as team doctor for Team USA, Michigan State University and for a gymnastics center in Dimondale, Mich. However, despite the hundreds of victims who have come forward, Wednesday's plea deal only focused on a few victims such as Rachel Denhollander, who described the abuse when she was in court.
"It felt very uncomfortable, very degrading. Why? Because it was so intimate, because he was where he wasn't supposed to be but my presumption was this was what I needed to get better," she said.
Nassar pleads guilty to child pornography charges
In July, Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. The physician was arrested last year on the child pornography charges including receipt and attempted receipt of child pornography, possession of child pornography, and destruction and concealment of records and tangible objects.
Nassar agreed to plead guilty to all of those charges. As part of the plea agreement he will not be prosecuted for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of children, as well as interstate or international travel with intent and engaging in illicit sexual conduct. Those charges were related to an incident which is alleged to have occurred in Nassar's swimming pool with two children in the summer of 2015.
A court document alleged that on Sept. 18, 2004 and Dec. 1, 2004, Nassar received child pornography that was sent to him over the Internet. The document says that between Feb. 6, 2003 and Sept, 20, 2016, Nassar was in possession of computer disks and electronic files that had thousands of images of child pornography. Some of the images allegedly included a minor who was younger than 12 years old, officials said.
By pleading guilty, Nassar admits he knowingly received child pornography, knew that the material was child pornography and that it had been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including a computer.
He could face no less than 5 years and not more than 20 years in prison. He also could have to pay a $250,000 fine for each count.