LANSING - For more than 14 months, through more than a 100 sexual assault allegations, former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar had maintained that he performed legitimate medical procedures.
That changed this morning.
Nassar, 54, of Holt, pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with seven victims. All but one was abused during a medical appointment. Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina accepted his guilty pleas and set a his sentencing hearing for Jan. 12. Aquilina said the sentencing hearing would run all day or multiple days if needed to allow all victims who desire to make statements.
"I think this is important, what I've done today to help move the community forward and away from the hurting, let the healing start," Nassar said near the end of the hearing. "A couple things I could do to stop the hurting, is this. And I think that's important.
"For all those involved, I'm so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control."
He added that he prays the rosary every day for forgiveness and wants the victims to heal.
"I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want healing. ... We need to move forward."
A few of the more than 140 women and girls who say Nassar abused them were in court for the hearing. Among them was Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault.
Aquilina said she was proud of them for ebing there and for finding their voices.
"That tells me they're finding the strength to come here today to show you they're not victims anymore," she said. "You used your position of trust. You used that position of trust that you had in the most vile way -- to abuse children.
"I agree that now is the time of healing, but it may take them a lifetime a healing while you spend your lifetime behind bars thinking about what you did in taking away their childhood."
Nassar's plea is part of an agreement with the Michigan Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the former Michigan State University doctor.
In exchange for his guilty pleas, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges, not to add charges for other sexual assault incidents known at this time and not to charge on child pornography evidence that doesn't relate to federal child pornography charges that he also faces.
Nassar pleaded guilty to several charges involving a victim who was younger than 13. State statute sets the minimum for those charges at 25 years, but the agreement sets a minimum sentence range of 25 to 40 years, with the judge setting the minimum. The charges for victims who were older than 13 don't have mandatory minimums.
All the charges carry maximum sentences of up to life in prison.
Nassar also faces sexual assault charges in Eaton County. A plea hearing in that case is set for Nov. 29. And on Dec. 7, Nassar will be sentenced in federal court on three child pornography charges after pleading guilty in July.
With the exception of a few, the sexual assault allegations against Nassar relate medical appointments that included digital vaginal and anal penetration without gloves, consent or prior notice. Several women have said Nassar was sexually aroused or that he massaged their breasts.
The allegations became public in September 2016, after the Indianapolis Star detailed the accounts of two women, including Denhollander. Since then, more than 120 have gone to police and at least 140 have filed lawsuits related to alleged sexual assaults by Nassar.
Days after the IndyStar story, Nassar, through his attorneys Matt Newburg and Shannon Smith, denied any wrongdoing.
"These techniques are medically accepted and appropriate treatments, according to doctors who practice osteopathic manual medicine," his attorneys wrote in a statement.
"Any allegations that Dr. Nassar was performing these procedures for any purpose other than proper medical treatment are patently false and untrue."
This morning, on the third floor of Veterans Memorial Courthouse in downtown Lansing, Nassar admitted to sexually assaulting Denhollander during a medical appointment when she was 15 years old.
He did so when he was working as a doctor at MSU. The university fired him last year shortly after the first public allegations.
In a statement released after the hearing, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said the university is grateful of the efforts of the MSU Police Department, which investigated Nassar, and the AG's office, which prosecuted him.
“The plea deal and conviction of Larry Nassar on Nov. 22 on state criminal sexual conduct charges in Ingham County represents another important step toward justice for the victims," he said.
"As President Simon has said, we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret any time someone in our community experiences it. It takes tremendous courage for victims of sexual violence to come forward."