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Larry Nassar denied removal of 'death warrant' judge from resentencing motion

Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, sits in the courtroom during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The Michigan judge who presided over Larry Nassar's extraordinary, weeklong sentencing hearing on charges of sexual assault in January will be allowed to hear his appeal for a new sentence. Attorneys for the disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor, who was confronted with accusations of abuse by more than 150 girls, women and parents, had argued that comments by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina during the hearing displayed bias against him and reflected a desire to "advance her own agenda."

"The die was cast in the courtroom and Defendant's sentence was forged by his own words and deeds," Ingham County (Mich.) Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard wrote Tuesday in a seven-page opinion. "Consideration of whether he should be resentenced can be fairly reviewed by the judge uniquely situated to provide justice in this case.

"The judge who heard these survivors is the only one who should properly render any resentence."

Garcia said that the "centerpiece" of Nassar's appeal consisted of two objections: to Aquilina's assertion that she was signing his "death warrant," when she sentenced him to a term of 40 to 175 years; and to her "explanation that our Constitutional Republic does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment." To the first, Garcia noted that Aquilina was simply referring to the fact that the sentence she imposed would begin after Nassar served his already existing 60-year federal term on charges related to child pornography, and thus he was "going to live the rest of his life in prison."

The chief judge went on to append some of her remarks from the January hearing, in which Aquilina told Nassar, "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 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."

Nassar "jumps to the conclusion that the judge is advocating for such cruel and unusual punishment," Garcia wrote in his opinion. "Her comments simply attempt to impress upon the Defendant his good fortune that he was protected by our Constitution. . . . However, the judge warned that an 'eye for an eye' 'solves nothing' and that vigilante crime is not tolerated. Such passionate elocution is not the basis for disqualification."

Attorneys for Nassar had suggested that Aquilina's "efforts to demonize" their client contributed to him being attacked by a fellow prison inmate in May. They had also claimed that she "used the nationally televised proceeding as an opportunity to advance her own agenda, including to advocate for policy initiatives within the state as well as the federal legislatures, to push for broader cultural change regarding gender equity and sexual discrimination issues and seemingly as a type of group therapy for victims."

Citing case law, Garcia wrote that Aquilina "clearly understood the importance of righteous indignation. She also understood the role of the court to have this emotion controlled by the judge rather than allow it to run wild in the community. She explained that as she expressed her indignation, there was a palpable decrease in the tension in the gallery. This was a controlled burn."

He added, "The survivors not only wanted to speak, but also needed to be heard and know that the people stand with them. Had Judge Aquilina discharged her duty of office 'without rhetoric' and dispassionately and blandly admonished the defendant in polite terms, the survivors who poured their pain onto the record would have left feeling that their voices were again being ignored by the state."

"Defendant apparently wishes to be resentenced before a judge who is ambivalent about the suffering of his victims," Garcia said. "This standard would disqualify any judge with a pulse."

According to the Detroit News, one of Nassar's attorneys said they will appeal Garcia's ruling to the Court of Appeals. A lawyer from the State Public Defender Office who is representing Nassar described the ruling as "not unexpected but disappointing."

This article was written by Des Bieler, a reporter for The Washington Post.