LANSING, Mich. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A sports doctor accused of molesting girls while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison.
Dr. Larry Nassar, 54, was charged with molesting seven girls, mostly under the guise of treatment at his Lansing-area home and a campus clinic. All but one of his accusers was a gymnast. He faces similar charges in a neighboring county and lawsuits filed by more than 125 women and girls.
Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas are among the women who have publicly said they were among Nassar’s victims.
Some of his accusers attended the hearing Wednesday in a packed Ingham County courtroom. Some were crying.
Nassar admitted to digital penetrating the victims and agreed that his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.
“For all those involved, (I’m) so horribly sorry,” Nassar said. “This was like a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. And I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. … I want them to heal. I want this community to heal. I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want healing. It’s time.”
The plea deal in Ingham County calls for a minimum prison sentence of 25 years, but a judge could set the minimum sentence as high as 40 years. In Michigan, inmates are eligible for parole after serving a minimum sentence.
“You used that position of trust that you had in the most vile way — to abuse children,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Nassar. “I agree that now is a time of healing, but it might take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your lifetime behind bars thinking about what you did in taking away their childhood.”
Sentencing is set for Jan. 12.
The girls have testified that Nassar molested them with his hands, sometimes when a parent was present in the room, while they sought help for gymnastics injuries.
After the hearing, one of his accusers, Larissa Boyce, said it was “really hard” to look at Nassar in the courtroom.
“This was a man we trusted. He’s admitting what he did was wrong and evil,” she said.
Separately, Nassar is charged with similar crimes in Eaton County, the location of an elite gymnastics club. He also is awaiting sentencing in federal court on child pornography charges.
The Michigan criminal cases against Nassar followed 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.
Douglas was the latest Olympian to come forward.
“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,” she wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)