Two years ago, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 150 women and girls. Nassar used his position as a doctor for USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University (MSU), and other organizations to prey on young athletes. One of his victims was under 13 years old.
During Nassar’s emotional, 7-day sentencing hearing, 156 victims told their stories, along with more than a dozen of their parents, spouses, and family members – who were also affected indirectly by Nassar’s abuse. For Judge Aquilina, it was important that these survivors felt heard. As a result, she made the following speech:
“How much is a young girl’s life worth? Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls – these young women in their childhood – I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others. Our country does not have an eye for an eye, and Michigan doesn’t have the death penalty, so I don’t know how to answer how much is a young girl’s life worth, but I have children of my own, and there’s not enough gold in the planet that would satisfy that question. And I think all of you victims are gold. You’re valuable. I’m so very sorry this happened.”
Critics, including Nassar, immediately attacked the judge’s comments. Nassar went as far as to appeal the sentencing, accusing Judge Aquilina of bias. A state court of appeals has agreed to hear his argument, but Nassar will serve a life sentence regardless of the outcome, due to a 70-year sentence for child pornography and a 40 to 125-year sentence for 3 counts of criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County.
Many of Judge Aquilina’s supporters argue that she was speaking with humanity, not bias. Judge Aquilina conducted herself properly in all proceedings, adhering to Nassar’s plea agreement and even asking the predator if he would like to withdraw his guilty plea after he failed to express remorse.
In her speech, Judge Aquilina also points out Nassar’s Constitutional rights while acknowledging societal desires for vengeance. Her words were meant to support survivors, not to demonstrate any bias against the defendant, who was, once again, already sentenced to life in prison before the hearing began.
As a matter of fact, Judge Aquilina’s words were not directed to Nassar at all, but were spoken in response to a question posed by a victim during testimony:
“How much is a young girl’s life worth?”
At the end of her speech, Judge Aquilina directly addressed the victim, who had told a story of screaming during an incident of abuse, stating:
“And [victim’s name redacted], I’ve heard your scream.”
Judge Aquilina supports survivors of sexual abuse both in and out of the courtroom. She speaks at events around the country, working to prevent future sex crimes and empower survivors.
Michigan’s attorney general has defended Judge Aquilina, as well, arguing that she simply expressed the “moral outrage” of the community.
Attorney White Weighs In
Our very own Jamie White, who represents dozens of Nassar survivors and has two decades of courtroom experience, explains:
“The reality is that it’s not uncommon for judges to express harsh disdain for defendants; I’ve heard judges criticize defendants in much stronger terms.”
While Nassar pursues an appeal that will not change his sentence, Judge Aquilina’s words and actions continue to inspire survivors of sexual abuse and assault.
Similarly, judges, attorneys, and government officials continue to fight for the rights of these women and girls in court. At White Law PLLC, we are proud to represent survivors of abuse and strive to help them obtain the compensation they are rightfully entitled to.
Perhaps if more individuals in positions of power, particularly those at MSU, had raised their voices in the same brave way as Judge Aquilina, much of Nassar’s abuse could have been prevented.
While Nassar’s criminal penalties have already been assessed, civil litigation against the predator and the organizations that enabled him is ongoing.
If you have been subject to abuse, please share your experience with our compassionate attorneys during a free, completely confidential consultation.
Call us at (517) 316-1195 or visit us online to schedule yours today.