DETROIT (WWJ) - One of the defense attorneys for Larry Nassar is questioning whether some of the 265 women who say they were molested by the former sports doctor were actually assaulted.
Speaking exclusively to WWJ Newsradio 950, Attorney Shannon Smith said a "huge part" of her does not believe all the women and girls who have come forward were abused by Nassar.
"There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar -- and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations," Smith told WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton. "Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn't even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they've seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that's really unfortunate."
Smith, who has been with Nassar since the beginning, believes some accusers were influenced by the way the case "spun out of control" in the media. During some statements, which were televised and widely broadcast online, victims discussed the psychological scars from Nassar's abuse — depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, trouble being around male teachers and other men and fractured relationships with family.
"I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it. I just can't imagine that's true," she said. "As much as they were allowed to speak at sentencing, and that was something we agreed to, even during the sentencing, more and more people were coming forward thinking 'I was fine my whole life and now all of a sudden I have realized I was a survivor.' I think that's really sad."
Nassar, 54, worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, the governing body that also trains Olympians. He was sentenced last week to 40 to 175 years in prison following a seven-day hearing where more than 150 victim impact statements were given. He was also sentenced in December to 60 years in federal prison for possessing thousands of images of child pornography. Right now, he's in the midst of a third sentencing hearing for molesting three gymnasts at an elite club run by an Olympic coach.
Despite pleading guilty to assaulting girls and women under the guise of medical treatment -- penetrating them with his ungloved hands when he was supposed to be treating them for injuries -- Nassar is still a good person in Smith's eyes.
"I think Larry Nassar comes off as a really great person. There is no doubt he did a lot of good for a lot of his patients," she said. "While people are criticizing the techniques he used, there is undeniably proof that those techniques would take a girl who came into his office unable to walk and fix her in a way that she was able to compete the next day. So, I see good in Larry Nassar."
Although she believes Nassar was performing legitimate medical treatments, Smith said it was ultimately Nassar's decision to accept a plea agreement.
"We had some issues in the case," she said. "And there was also a lot of child pornography that could not be refuted. There's facts and information that I would never share with the public, nor could I share with the public, and so at the end of the day it was really his decision."
Smith said it was not only easy for her to represent Nassar, but an important duty as an American citizen.
"My job is absolutely not to question my clients' behaviors or things that have happened. My job is to make sure the process is fair and to make sure they're getting a defense. Everyone is entitled to a defense under the constitution," she said. "I have no problem representing somebody like Larry Nassar. I actually feel like I get energized from the fact that other people don't understand and don't appreciate what our constitution is about."
Smith has actually received multiple death threats, with an untold number of ugly phone calls and hate mail by the bushel. She understands the resentment, given the heinous crimes, but she's only doing her job to provide legal representation.
"At first I'm terrified but then when I realize the people are actually far away, it's very obvious they have no education and I can't imaging the resources to come to Michigan to get me, but it's certainly been scary," she said. "I look into each one and I have taken some of them over to police."
It's easy for the public to judge Nassar and how they handled the case, Smith said, but those opinions mean nothing to her.
"When you are not a lawyer on the case seeing the evidence, it's really easy to Monday morning quarterback," she said. "When I see the opinions coming in on Nassar's criminal case, I almost laugh sometimes and wonder if they were in the same courtroom as me. And it's because there is so much evidence that the general public does not have access to."
At the end of the day, Smith said the case should serve as an important warning for doctors to think seriously about protecting themselves, because they could one day be in Nassar's shoes.
"All doctors, while it is not illegal to see a patient without a chaperone in the room, should have a chaperone in the room. I have learned that while it is not illegal to touch someone with an ungloved hand, patients expect gloves and if you're not going to use gloves you need to explain that," she said. "I would encourage them to write the techniques down on paper and have clients sign explicit forms that they were advised of what the treatment would be like, they were advised of how they would be touched and that they understood it and consented to it. ... By doing that, I believe it would protect patients from being victimized and also protect doctors from false allegations."
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