A former doctor accused of molesting girls while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison.
Larry Nassar, 54, admitted to abusing seven girls, mostly under the guise of treatment at his Lansing-area home and a campus clinic. All but one of his accusers was a gymnast. He faces similar charges in a neighboring county and lawsuits filed by more than 125 women and girls. Nassar lost his license to practice medicine in April.
Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas are among the women who have publicly said they were among Nassar's victims.
Raisman said on Twitter Wednesday it was "about time that Larry plead guilty and owned up to his actions."
"Until we fully understand the flaws in the system that allowed this to happen in the first place — and enabled it to continue for decades — we can't be confident it won't happen again," she wrote.
Some of Nassar's accusers attended the hearing Wednesday in a packed Ingham County courtroom. Some were crying.
"For all those involved ... I'm so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control," Nassar said. "I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. I want them to heal. I want the community to heal."
Nassar admitted to digitally penetrating the victims and agreed that his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls' consent.
The plea deal in Ingham County calls for a minimum prison sentence of 25 years, but a judge could set the minimum sentence as high as 40 years. In Michigan, inmates are eligible for parole after serving a minimum sentence.
Sentencing was set for Jan. 12.
A prosecutor said 125 women and girls have filed complaints with Michigan State University police.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Nassar: "You used your position of trust ... in the most vile way to abuse children. ... I agree that now is a time of healing, but it may take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your lifetime behind bars thinking about what you did in taking away their childhood."
She called the accusers "superheroes for all of America, because this is an epidemic."
The girls have testified that Nassar molested them with his hands, sometimes when a parent was present in the room, while they sought help for gymnastics injuries.
After the hearing, one of the accusers, Larissa Boyce, said it was "really hard" to look at Nassar in the courtroom.
"This was a man we trusted. He's admitting what he did was wrong and evil," she said.
Three of Nassar's accusers — including two whom he admitted assaulting Wednesday — held a news conference with their lawyers after the hearing. They accused officials at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee of inadequately investigating reports of abuse, leading to more girls being molested.
"We have yet to hear the truth" from those institutions, said a victim, Rachael Denhollander. "Officials who kept Larry in power for decades. Officials who ignored repeated reports of sexual assaults. Officials who brushed the victims off as unable to tell the difference between a medical exam and sexual violation." Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee are all subject to lawsuits in the case.
Separately, Nassar is charged with similar crimes in Eaton County, the location of an elite gymnastics club. He also is awaiting sentencing in federal court on child pornography charges.
The Michigan criminal cases against Nassar followed reports last year in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse, sometimes when their parents were in the exam room at Michigan State.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement that it was "very sorry that any athlete was harmed by Larry Nassar" and that it fired Nassar and reported him to the FBI after first learning of concerns in 2015. Manly said the organization never informed Michigan State, however, which had investigated a complaint in 2014 only to clear Nassar.
Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said the university "unequivocally denies" accusations that it covered up misconduct by school administrators. He disclosed for the first time that university police and the FBI conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine if any school employees besides Nassar committed crimes.
In a statement, U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Jones said the organization is "disgusted that these acts occurred, heartbroken for the victims" and "proud of their courage for confronting this tragedy."
Jones also thanked "law enforcement personnel for ensuring (Nassar) is never able to abuse young women again."