SEVERE WX : Flash Flood Watch View Alerts

She's the judge these Larry Nassar victims needed

As a teenager, Amanda Cormier loved music. She would sing in musicals and choirs and be endlessly creative as she wro...

Posted: Jan 18, 2018 6:23 PM
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 6:23 PM

As a teenager, Amanda Cormier loved music. She would sing in musicals and choirs and be endlessly creative as she wrote songs on the guitar, she said.

But after Larry Nassar sexually abused her when she was 15, she lost her passion for music. She struggled to open up emotionally and couldn't perform in front of people, she told a court on Tuesday. She hasn't written a song since she was 18, she said.

Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina listened to her and then offered some advice to Cormier -- and to Cormier's unborn baby.

"It seems to me, after this, you can finish writing. You found your voice," Aquilina said. "It's a strong, effective, brave voice, and you have a child coming. Maybe what you need to do is start and finish a lullaby."

That personalized, intimate response to Cormier was representative of Judge Aquilina's unique approach in these court hearings as part of Nassar's sentencing.

As victim after victim has shared horrific tales of assault and abuse, Aquilina has acted as both judge and therapist, offering empathy, comfort and advice to each individual.

"I wish my robe came with a magic wand so I can wave it over you and heal you," Judge Aquilina said to one victim. "But that's fairy tales."

Aquilina has effectively transformed the hearing into a sort of judicial therapy session. The approach is striking and uncommon, legal experts said, particularly for victim impact statements, which are designed to give victims their day in court.

"It's not really an opportunity for a judge to give a comforting statement, psychiatric counsel, (or) trauma advice," Stacy Schneider, a criminal defense attorney and legal commentator told CNN. "That wasn't the purpose of it."

"To get so intimate with the victims in a case, coming from the bench, is a very unusual thing," she added.

Nassar, once a renowned doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, has pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual assault in Ingham County in Michigan. As part of his plea deal, he admitted to using his position as a trusted medical professional in order to assault and molest young girls.

Prosecutors said they expect about 101 victims to speak against Nassar, and the proceedings are expected to last through the week.

He has also pleaded guilty to three counts in Eaton County in Michigan, and he has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. It seems certain that Nassar, 54, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

'He will wither away'

Many victims have said they suffer from anxiety, self-doubt or depression because of Nassar's abuse. In response, Aquilina has affirmed their self-worth and repeatedly focused the blame on Nassar, often using powerful, disparaging language.

"The monster who took advantage of you is going to wither, much like the scene in the 'Wizard of Oz' where the water gets poured on the witch and the witch withers away," Aquilina told one victim on Tuesday.

"That's what's going to happen to him, because as you get stronger, as you overcome -- because you will -- he gets weaker and he will wither away. Prison is no place for a human being to live."

Aquilina's comments have sometimes bordered on vindictive. At the very end of Tuesday's hearing, the judge imagined aloud what she'd like to do to Nassar if not for the 8th amendment to the US Constitution.

"Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment," she said. "If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of 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."

Comments like these from a presiding judge are unusual, said Stu Slotnick, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

"It's somewhat unusual for the judge to say something like that because it makes it seem personal. But the one thing you have to remember is this is the most heinous of heinous crimes."

In general, judges thank or comfort victims when they speak but withhold their opinion until the end. At that point, the judge will offer their overall thoughts on the defendant and victims and deliver a sentence, Slotnick said.

"What (Nassar) did was so reprehensible and so disgusting that everyone shares the judge's sentiment," he added.

"However, it's unusual that prior to actually rendering a sentencing, the judge is actually expressing her opinion."

But judges showing empathy for victims is "totally appropriate," according to Jennifer Long, the chief executive officer at Aequitas, an organization that offers resources to prosecutors in cases of sexual and domestic violence.

"I don't think that's any way in contradiction to the rules of the judge. It demonstrates that the judge is understanding of the victim's suffering," she said.

"(It) makes a huge difference to victims to think about individually getting up and making a statement."

The comments could, however, open Aquilina up to legal challenges. Schneider said Nassar's defense attorney could seize on them if Nassar chooses to appeal his coming sentence.

"If it was a lower sentence and the judge made those types of comments about my client, I would definitely use those sentiments in an appeal to show the judge had a preexisting bias against the defendant," she said.

Judge, author and radio host

Aquilina was elected to the 30th Circuit Court in November of 2008, and her most notable case was when she ruled that Detroit's bankruptcy filing was unconstitutional in 2013.

Before that, she served as a district court judge, according to her online biography. She also was the first female JAG Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard when she enlisted. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law and at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

She previously hosted a syndicated radio talk show called "Ask the Family Lawyer," according to her online biography. And in December, Aquilina released her novel "Triple Cross Killer," which follows a team of detectives who try to track down a daunting killer, according to the book description.

Perhaps it's that interest in writing that led her to push Amanda Cormier to restart her musical career and begin work on a lullaby.

"I look forward to hearing the end of your song. Get writing," Aquilina said on Tuesday. "I think it would be good therapy for you and your child and the rest of us to hear you sing and to know strongly in that voice that you are a tower of strength, and all survivors can be."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 752108

Reported Deaths: 13816
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1033831790
Lake558431013
Allen41736693
St. Joseph37007565
Hamilton36617417
Elkhart29425461
Tippecanoe22938228
Vanderburgh22565400
Porter19369327
Johnson18486389
Hendricks17696317
Clark13233195
Madison13176344
Vigo12631253
LaPorte12429221
Monroe12226176
Delaware10970198
Howard10349224
Kosciusko9643121
Hancock8578147
Bartholomew8174157
Warrick7864156
Floyd7815180
Grant7248179
Wayne7164201
Boone6979103
Morgan6768141
Dubois6224118
Marshall6214116
Cass6024110
Henry5903110
Dearborn589878
Noble581688
Jackson509476
Shelby502396
Lawrence4753122
Gibson445595
Clinton443555
Harrison441775
DeKalb440385
Montgomery439890
Whitley406744
Huntington403381
Steuben400859
Miami395769
Jasper389155
Knox377691
Putnam373461
Wabash362383
Ripley347370
Adams345555
Jefferson336186
White332753
Daviess3035100
Wells295481
Decatur289892
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey274335
LaGrange273272
Scott270356
Clay267148
Washington246336
Randolph245183
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228159
Fountain222048
Sullivan214843
Owen212358
Fulton204043
Jay201032
Carroll193820
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion175344
Franklin170435
Tipton166646
Parke149616
Pike138334
Blackford136232
Pulaski120847
Newton114936
Brown104443
Benton102614
Crawford102516
Martin91815
Warren84115
Switzerland8158
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0424

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1109697

Reported Deaths: 20213
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1289521469
Cuyahoga1158802216
Hamilton814201251
Montgomery525861049
Summit484551006
Lucas43384824
Butler39098606
Stark33355930
Lorain25689506
Warren24612305
Mahoning22388602
Lake21219389
Clermont20138253
Delaware18892136
Licking16671225
Fairfield16589204
Trumbull16560483
Medina15618273
Greene15292248
Clark14244306
Wood13296200
Portage13254216
Allen11919239
Richland11611211
Miami10857225
Wayne9153225
Columbiana9039230
Muskingum8909135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8654251
Marion8649139
Erie8058165
Ashtabula7171179
Hancock6999133
Ross6948163
Geauga6850151
Scioto6540106
Belmont6159174
Union585049
Lawrence5741102
Jefferson5683159
Huron5554122
Sandusky5444126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5321109
Athens524460
Auglaize502487
Mercer487785
Shelby477095
Knox4573112
Madison444566
Ashland435997
Putnam4336104
Defiance432399
Fulton432274
Crawford4046110
Brown402761
Logan387678
Preble3859105
Clinton379266
Ottawa373581
Highland360266
Williams348578
Champaign344959
Guernsey325254
Jackson318454
Perry297350
Morrow291940
Fayette285750
Hardin275765
Henry273867
Holmes2703101
Coshocton269360
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240850
Wyandot234756
Hocking220663
Carroll197548
Paulding176642
Meigs148540
Monroe136345
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan110124
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
77° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 79°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 73°
Huntington
Cloudy
76° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 78°
Decatur
Cloudy
77° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 79°
Van Wert
Mostly Cloudy
80° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 81°
Daily rounds of showers and thunderstorms will increase the flood threat across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events