She told them to leave their pain in the court room and to go out and do magnificent things. She called them “strong” and “brave,” and welcomed them with, “Thank you. What would you like me to know?”
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina listened to 156 women give statements against Dr. Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Gymnastics team doctor who pleaded guilty to multiple sex crimes, according to the New York Times. Her vow to let every victim speak has transformed this historic hearing into a sort of therapy session, not only providing a platform to this country’s sexual assault reckoning, but, more importantly, providing victims with the opportunity to liberate themselves from the abuse they’ve endured.
Critics of victim impact statements, in general, worry that these statements could sway a sentencing panel. But this case has no jury, and given the 60-year term he was sentenced to in December 2017 over child pornography charges, Nassar (54) is likely to die in prison. Therefore, Judge Aquilina has made this case about giving victims a voice.
“Permitting 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,” said Janice Nadler, a law professor at Northwestern University who has written on victim impact statements.
Last week, Nassar sent Judge Aquilina a letter claiming emotional distress over hearing victims’ statements. Judge Aquilina responded appropriately.
“Spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor,” she said, “considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense and ruining their lives.”
Judge Aquilina has received a reputation for her blunt, hard-hitting nature. In a 2014 profile in the Washtenaw County Legal News, she stated: “I’m a fighter. I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t let anyone create a mold for me. I’m going to make my own mold. I stand up for people and say, ‘We’re going to do what’s right.’”
“Barracuda Aquilina,” a nickname from her time in the military, is known as a judge, professor, major, mother, and grandmother. She loves wearing cowboy boots and has written crime novels. While studying at Cooley Law School, she gave birth twice, and has served 20 years in the Michigan Army National Guard.
On Wednesday, Judge Andrew Napolitano called Judge Aquilina an “American hero,” on Fox News’ Outnumbered.
“Her behavior was nothing short of heroic,” he said, “not just for victims, not just for women, but for the entire criminal justice system to do the right thing in a methodical and rational way.”
Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison, on top of his 60 year federal sentence on Wednesday.
After hearing one victim speak, Judge Aquilina thanked the victim for her strength, telling her, “The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you.”
Watch her full remarks to Larry Nassar below.
Top photo via NBC News.
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