INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Former sports doctor Larry Nassar likely still would be sexually assaulting girls if not for the work of an Indiana newspaper that helped to expose the abuse, a Michigan prosecutor said Wednesday.
"We as a society need investigative journalists more than ever," Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis told the judge at Nassar's sentencing hearing.
Nassar, 54, admitted sexually assaulting athletes under the guise of medical treatment when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison in a case involving seven victims, and he faces sentencing next week in a neighboring Michigan county where he abused girls at a gymnastics club. He already had been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography.
The case began with a 2016 Indianapolis Star investigation of how USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse allegations against coaches. That prompted former gymnast Rachael Denhollander to alert the newspaper to Nassar's abuse.
"After that article, I knew this was the time," Denhollander told The Associated Press. "This is always what I knew had to be done ... (and) I was 100 percent confident there were other victims speaking up and being silenced."
After the Star investigation, the number of victims coming forward grew, getting another jolt with the sentencing that began last week. Originally, fewer than 90 women and girls were expected to give statements, but more than 150 ended up giving them.
Povilaitis told the judge that without Denhollander and the newspaper, Nassar "would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes and abusing kids." Among the honors the newspaper received for its reporting was the top award for criminal justice reporting from the Investigative Reporters & Editors.
"We know federal law enforcement did not stop him, nor did trainers or coaches or dean or medical supervisors. ... But thank God we have these journalists and that they exposed this truth and that they continued to cover the story," Povilaitis said.
The praise comes as newspaper readership overall is declining and amid increased attacks on the credibility of news organizations by President Donald Trump, who often derides news he doesn't like as "fake."
Star reporter Tim Evans, who worked with colleagues Mark Alesia and Marisa Kwiatkowski to uncover the scandal, said they knew of three Nassar victims at first and "never in our wildest dreams thought it would blow up as it has."
"I'm proud that real journalism matters in this day and age," he said, noting that some readers accused the Star at first of making up the story to sell newspapers. "It's humbling that three reporters at a ... mid-market newspaper were able to take on a story of that scope and ride it through to this amazing conclusion."
Aquilina offered her own praise for the media, saying: "I do believe in the First Amendment."
Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan.
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