The Michigan judge who sentenced disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to as many as 175 years in prison on Tuesday has come under scrutiny for her sentencing remarks, which critics contend may have crossed a line.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina concluded Nassar’s sentencing in dramatic fashion. After reading excerpts from a letter he had recently written to her, she threw the paper aside as if it were a piece of trash. The gesture was immediately made into a popular .gif and shared on social media sites.
Aquilina then sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting young female athletes.
“I just signed your death warrant,” Aquilina now famously declared.
The reaction by the judge was met by cheers and jeers. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, one of the many who came forward accusing Nassar of sexual abuse, called Aquilina her “hero.”
Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, who also accused Nassar, wrote a statement thanking Aquilina for her “professionalism, compassion and commitment” to allow each of the victims to tell their side of their story.
Others didn’t feel the same way. Kevin Daley, a reporter with the Daily Caller, called the judge “disgraceful” in a column.
“The judge told Nassar he could not be rehabilitated, took enormous satisfaction in, as she put it, signing his death warrant, and openly mused about subjecting him to gang rape,” Daley wrote.
During the sentencing, Aquilina told Nassar: “If [the U.S. Constitution] did, I have to say, I might allow what [Nassar] did to all of these beautiful souls ― these young women in their childhood ― I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”
Graeme Wood, a reporter with The Atlantic, felt Aquilina’s “beautiful souls” remark crossed a line, too.
“The dignity of the proceedings was diminished by a few words, though, that the judge offered by way of regret,” Wood wrote. “… Subjecting Nassar to a lifetime of rape is not my idea of justice, and fantasizing about it is not my idea of judicial temperament.”
Like Daley, others felt Aquilina was suggesting Nassar be sexually assaulted as payback for the years of abuse he inflicted on others.
Andrew Cohen of the New Republic said Aquilina’s “relentless hostility and anger toward Nassar” made her seem biased.
“She did this by treating Nassar as if he were something far less than an American entitled to all of the constitutional protections of a fair tribunal,” Cohen wrote.
Rachel Marshall, a reporter with Vox, echoed Cohen’s thoughts that judges should be “neutral, independent arbiters, who impartially evaluate the evidence and apply the law.”
“That’s the only way we can trust in a system that has such awesome power to take away people’s liberty,” Marshall wrote.