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 5:23 PM
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 5:23 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."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530325

Reported Deaths: 10966
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763971520
Mobile40908804
Madison34717503
Tuscaloosa25730452
Montgomery24314588
Shelby23401249
Baldwin21107307
Lee15856171
Calhoun14488314
Morgan14282279
Etowah13819353
Marshall12210223
Houston10557280
Elmore10044205
Limestone9954150
Cullman9649193
St. Clair9644242
Lauderdale9419241
DeKalb8825185
Talladega8214175
Walker7223277
Autauga6918108
Jackson6804112
Blount6651137
Colbert6292134
Coffee5506119
Dale4828111
Russell440638
Chilton4279112
Franklin425582
Covington4118118
Tallapoosa4019152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3547151
Clarke350861
Marion3113100
Pike310577
Lawrence299898
Winston274072
Bibb260464
Marengo249264
Geneva249077
Pickens234160
Barbour230757
Hale222677
Butler215969
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184445
Randolph179941
Monroe177340
Washington167039
Macon158750
Clay156156
Crenshaw152057
Cleburne148741
Lamar141934
Lowndes138653
Wilcox127030
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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