A jury on Friday convicted a former Michigan State University gymnastics coach of lying to police when she denied that two teen athletes told her of sexual abuse by sports doctor Larry Nassar in 1997, nearly 20 years before he was charged.
Kathie Klages, 65, was found guilty of a felony and a misdemeanor in a Lansing courthouse where Nassar was sentenced more than two years ago. Klages faces up to four years in prison at her April 15 sentencing.
She is the second person other than Nassar to be convicted of charges related to his serial molestation of young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
“I am glad that the enablers are being held accountable, and I hope that it's showing the world that we've got to do better,” said Larissa Boyce, one of the women who testified against Klages. “Sexual assault needs to be taken seriously.”
Klages, of Mason, resigned in 2017 after she was suspended for defending Nassar when the scandal first became public. Prosecutors said she lied in 2018 when she told investigators that Boyce and another girl, who were in a campus gymnastics program but not MSU gymnasts, had not reported Nassar’s sexual misconduct to her.
The jury "got it wrong,” defense attorney Mary Chartier said while she, family members and supporters consoled Klages as they left the courthouse. If the case had not involved Nassar, she said, Klages would never have been found guilty.
Klages testified that she did not remember being told about abuse. She said she was “shocked” when she first learned in 2017 that one of the teens said she had previously told Klages about Nassar, whom she considered a “very good friend, professionally.”
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“I have no recollection of the conversation,” Klages said. Later, under cross-examination, she said: “I would think that I would remember something like that. I would think I would.”
In closing statements, prosecutors said Klages lied.
“It’s not believable that the defendant forgot about being told ... what happened to them,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Rolstin. “Kathie Klages should not be rewarded for her lies that she told you today, and she should not be rewarded for lies she told during the MSU investigation trying to get to the bottom of what happened with Larry Nassar.”
The 12 jurors deliberated for about three hours.
Boyce testified that when she was 16 and training with the Spartan youth gymnastics team in 1997, she told Klages that Nassar had inappropriately touched her — long before the scandal emerged in 2016. But she said she backed off and even apologized after Klages warned her that any complaints about Nassar could cause trouble.
Another witness, who asked that her name not be used in news coverage, was 14 when she said she reported Nassar to Klages the same day as Boyce.
Chartier urged the jury to not “rely on the word of two teenage girls from 23 years ago” and noted that Klages sent her three children and a granddaughter to be treated by Nassar for years after she was allegedly told of his abuse. She also cited inconsistencies in the witnesses' stories and said authorities never found anyone who was at the meeting or had heard of it, despite allegations that Klages brought in college gymnasts to talk to the accusers and dissuade them.
“They have absolutely no evidence that even if these comments were made, she remembers them all these years later," Chartier said.
Nassar, 56, worked at Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He is serving what are effectively life sentences for child porn possession and sexually assaulting young women and girls. More than 300 victims, including Olympic gold medalists, have said he molested them during treatment for back problems and other injuries.
In August, Nassar's former supervisor at Michigan State, ex-College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel, was sentenced to jail for crimes including neglecting a duty to enforce protocols on Nassar after a patient complained about sexual contact in 2014.
In 2004, a 17-year-old girl said she told police that Nassar had molested her with ungloved hands when she sought help for her back. Officers, however, closed the case after he insisted he was using a legitimate medical technique. Police apologized in 2018.
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