A Michigan judge sentenced former doctor Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting at least 190 women over several decades while he was working with gymnasts and other athletes at Michigan State and for USA Gymnastics.
Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, 59, has received widespread praise for her handling of the sentencing phase of the case as 156 survivors were given time to read victim impact statements to the court. Video of the sentencing was streamed live online and watched by millions. Aquilina, who has been a judge since 2004 after a career as a private lawyer, is an author, TV host, mother, grandmother and retired National Guard JAG officer who earned the nickname “Barracuda Aquilina” during her military career.
Aquilina left the courtroom to a round of applause after sentencing Nassar on Wednesday:
“As much as it was my honor and privilege to hear the sister survivors, it is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” Aquilina told Nassar in court. “Because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. Your decision to assault was calculated, precise, devious, despicable. You played on everyone’s vulnerability. I’m not vulnerable.”
Earlier in the proceedings, which spanned several days, Nassar complained in a letter to the judge about the unfairness of having to listen to the survivor’s statements. Aquilina shot him down in one of the many powerful moments of the sentencing hearing.
“This isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, there’s no truth in there, it’s delusional,” she told Nassar. “I didn’t orchestrate this, you did. Spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense and ruining their lives.”
Here’s what you need to know about Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:
1. The Judge Told Nassar ‘I Just Signed Your Death Warrant’
On Wednesday, during the final day of sentencing after 156 survivors spoke out about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to between 40 to 175 years in state prison. Nassar was previously sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.
“Just so you know, and so you can count it off your calendar, 40 years is 480 months. The tail end, because I need to send a message to the parole board, in the event that somehow God is gracious, and I know he is, and you survive the 60 years in federal court first and then you start on my 40 years, you’ve gone off the page here in what I’m doing. My page only goes to 100 years. Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is twenty-one hundred months.”
Aquilina told Nassar, “I just signed your death warrant.”
She added, I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger. You remain a danger. I’m a judge who believes in life and rehabilitation, when rehabilitation is possible. I have many defendants come back here who show me the great things they have done in their lives after probation, after parole, I don’t find that’s possible with you.”
2. Aquilina Said the Story Is Not About Her, but Is About the Survivors Whose Stories She Allowed to Be Told
At the conclusion of the Nassar sentencing hearing, Aquilina addressed the media, saying that she has received several requests for interviews. But she said the focus of the story about the case should not be on her, but should be on the survivors. She said she will consider speaking with reporters about the case after it has gone through the appeals process, but she said she will only do that if she has a survivor by her side. You can watch the full final day of the sentencing hearing below:
“I’m just doing my job. I know you all want to talk to me, my secretary has informed me that I have a growing stack of requests from print media, from television, from magazines from around the world, literally,” Aquilina said in court Wednesday. “This story is not about me. It never was about me. I hope I’ve opened some doors, but you see I’m a little stupid because I thought everybody did what I did. And if they didn’t, maybe they ought to. But I do this and have been doing it.”
Aquilina said she has sometimes heard from lawyers that she has waited too long to let people talk. “Sometimes people get upset, I don’t care I get paid the same,” Aquilina said.
She said, “It’s just not my story. After the appellate period runs, with victims by my side to tell their stories, I might answer some more questions than what I said on the record. But I’m not going to talk with any person until after the appeal period, and even then, if you talk to me about this case, I will have a survivor with me, because it is their story.”
3. She Spent Several Years Running Her Own Law Firm & Was Elected as an Ingham County Judge in 2004
Aquilina started her legal career as an administrative assistant to State Senator John F. Kelly, working there for 10 years, according to her biography on the Ingham County website. She then partnered with Kelly in the lobbying firm Strategic Government Consultants, and opened Aquilina Law Firm, “which grew to become very successful and which resulted in her becoming the host of ‘Ask the Family Lawyer,’ which became syndicated.”
In 2004, Aquilina became a judge on 55th District Court, serving as chief judge and sobriety court judge. She was elected to the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County in 2008 for a six-year term. She was re-elected in 2015 and her term runs until 2015.
While in Ingham County, Aquilina has presided over several high profile trials, according to the Washtenaw County Legal News. “The computer does it,” she said of her assignments to prominent cases. “God’s giving them to me—if anybody is. I think certain things are put in your hands.”
In 2014, Aquilina ruled Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing violated the Michigan Constitution and state law. She sent a copy of her judgement to President Barack Obama, according to the legal news site.
“This was not a decision that was hard for me. This was the law, and our state Constitution has to stand for something, as do our laws. And ultimately people can make fun of my decision or not. It’s up to them. I follow the law, and I think eventually I’ll be upheld,” she told the legal news site in 2014. “But my message to Obama was: ‘Get ready to cough up some federal money. This is coming.'”
4. She Was the First Female JAG Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard & Served for 20 Years
Aquilina retired honorably after serving in the Michigan Army National Guard for 20 years and was the first female JAG officer in the Michigan guard’s history, according to her biography on the Ingham County website. “Ultimately, she became one of the most requested JAG Officers because of her dedication to service and the soldiers she served with,” according to the bio.
While in the military she earned the nickname “Barracuda Aquilina,” according to a 2014 profile in the Washentaw County Legal News.
“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,'” she told the news site in 2014.
5. Aquilina, Who Graduated From Michigan State, Is a Mother of 5 Children, Has 3 Grandchildren & Is an Author of Crime Novels
Rosemarie Aquilina, a mother of five children and grandmother of three, lives in East Lansing, Michigan, according to her biography on the Ingham County website. Aquilina graduated from Michigan State University in 1979 with degrees in journalism and English education. She then went on to attend the Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University, graduating in 1984, according to her biography.
According to the Lansing State Journal, Aquilina has two older children, ages 36 and 35, but decided to have another child at 42 with her former longterm partner. A decade later, while working as a judge, Aquilina gave birth to twins as a single mom using a sperm bank and in vitro fertilization.
Aquilina has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since she was 12. She grew up in the U.S., but was born to a Maltese father and German mother while her father, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, was serving at the American army base in Frankfurt. During Nassar’s sentencing she spoke about her personal status of being a naturalized citizen.
“I try to treat everybody like family because that’s the justice system I was raised to believe in,” she said. “I was raised on old country values.”
Aquilina’s biography lists her numerous contributions to the Michigan community:
Throughout her career, Judge Aquilina has given back to the community in numerous ways, and has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Board of Water and Light and the City of Lansing Elected Officers Compensation Commission. She currently serves as a mentor for the State Bar of Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program.
Judge Aquilina is an adjunct professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School where she enjoys teaching classes to include Family Law, Advanced Trial Practice-Family Law, Legislative Process, Defending Battered Women, Animal Law, Child Abuse and Neglect, Elder Law, and Military Law. Cooley Law School awarded Judge Aquilina the distinguished Griffen Award for Teaching Excellence. She is also an adjunct professor at Michigan State University School of Law teaching numerous classes in the Feiger Trial Practice Institute to include Criminal Trial Practice, Civil Trial Practice, Trial Practicum, Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure in the JD and LLM programs. Michigan State University honored Judge Aquilina with the College of Law Student Bar Association Adjunct Faculty Award for exceptional teaching.
Along with her career as an attorney and now as a judge, Aquilina is also a published author, writing two fictional crime novels, according to the Ingham County website. Her novel, “Feel No Evil,” was published in August 2003. Her most recent novel, “Triple Cross Killer (State Detective Special Forces),” was published on December 5, 2017:
Have you ever wondered what really happens to Santa Claus letters? In Detroit and Sarasota some children’s letters are diverted and reviewed by Nick Archer, a religiously obsessed, narcissist. Nick responds, leaving a trail of devastation in the two cities.
In Detroit, co-ed partners and wise-cracking lovers, detectives Jaq McSween and David Maxwell, team up with Sarasota detectives Abel Mendoza and his partner, Rabbit, to find this daunting killer. When Jaq’s friend, the lovely nurse, Rita Rose, takes a chance on love again, she gets caught in Nick’s web. Working with the ME, she joins in, adding her perspective when events take a sinister turn. Can this diverse team of characters pool their insights, barbs, and taste for bad food to save Rita when she discovers the final clues or will she become the next victim?
Aquilina told the Lansing State Journal that she is hoping that the book, published by Fiery Seas, will launch a series. She said she has already had some inquiries about film rights and her publishing house has the rights to two more novels featuring the detectives in “Triple Cross Killer.” She told the newspaper, “I have no expectations. I’m just hopeful people who read it will enjoy it. If money follows, I think that’s outstanding. If it doesn’t follow, I will still write.”