As 144 people offer victim impact statements in the ongoing trial of Larry Nassar, the doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University accused of serial sexual abuse, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has emerged as a fierce advocate for the women offering testimony.
“The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you,” Judge Aquilina told one of the numerous victims on Monday morning, calling her a “heroine” and a “superhero,” according to The New York Times. “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”
Hearings on Tuesday began with the 125th person coming forward with a narrative that implicates Nassar in a series of hideous crimes: “Hearing the voices of my peers has given me the strength to tell my story," said Whitney Burns.
Aquilina has been open about her desire to send Nassar to jail for life.
“Leave your pain here,” Judge Aquilina told one of the victims, “and go out and do your magnificent things.”
While impartiality for judges is certainly important during the deliberation phase of a trial, Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, notes that Nassar has already been declared guilty.
“At a sentencing, a judge can say and is encouraged to say just what she thinks,” said Gillers. “What’s unusual here is that the number of victims who are willing to speak has given the judge more than 100 opportunities to do that.”
NYT notes that Aquilina has not received any notable criticism for her advocacy. She has offered words of encouragement and contemplation following the testimony of each victim. Several of those telling their stories have thanked her.
“The severe nature of the crime was compounded many times over by the failure of adults who knew or should have known that crimes were occurring to take action to protect the victims,” said Janice Nadler, a law professor at Northwestern University. “Permitting the victim impact statements of all individuals who Nassar abused is the government’s opportunity to counter Nassar’s message: to demonstrate to the victims that they matter, that their lives matter, that the state stands ready to impose the punishment that Nassar deserves.”
“Spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor,” Aquilina had said to Nassar during the trial. “considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense and ruining their lives.”
Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years over a child pornography conviction.
[Photo: Getty Images]