The defense attorney for convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar said she does not believe her client was capable of sexually assaulting the number of women who have accused him of doing so.
In an interview with WWJ Newsradio on Thursday morning, Shannon Smith said "there is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him.
"I believe that what happened, while there may be some that were victimized -- and certainly [as] a part of the plea agreement -- there are others who have come to believe they were victimized because of the way the case spun, in a way, out of control."
Smith clarified in a follow-up phone call with ESPN that she was not denying that Nassar is guilty of assaulting some women, but that the number who have come forward is "really extreme."
"There was no way there could have been so much," she said. "Larry would have to have been doing this all day, every day, with no one catching on. This is a guy who put child pornography in a trash can. He's not a savvy guy."
Judge Janice Cunningham started Friday's hearing by addressing Smith's comments. Cunningham said it was unfortunate that Smith made those comments during the course of the sentencing hearing. She said Nassar "disavowed" Smith's comments, and that those comments weren't relevant to the hearing.
"What is relevant is for the court to hear each individual story," Cunningham said. "... I believe what each individual has and will tell me. It is their individual stories that are relevant to the proceedings."
Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor and USA Gymnastics medical coordinator, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in November. The Michigan attorney general's office said Wednesday that 256 girls and young women (the number had appeared incorrectly in earlier reports as 265) have filed complaints to law enforcement saying that Nassar assaulted them. More than half of those complaints have come since Nassar's guilty plea, as awareness about the case has grown.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Nassar said he wasn't aware Smith was going to make these statements and he didn't authorize them.
"During a visit today with one of my lawyers, I was informed of multiple news articles that attributed quotes to Shannon Smith about her personal feelings regarding my cases. I was not aware that these statements were going to be made nor did I authorize them. As I have repeatedly said under oath, the plea agreements are accurate and I have, through my lawyers, asked that the court follow them. I have heard each and every impact statement made by the victims in my cases.
"Their words have been meaningful, they have pierced my soul and I will carry their words with me for the rest of my life. I am sorry about this distraction at a time when the attention should be on the statements of these victims," he said.
Some of the women who have provided statements say they believe the total number of girls and women who were abused by Nassar could actually be much higher that 256. Accusations against Nassar begin in the early 1990s and the in-demand doctor saw patients after regular business hours in several locations, including his office, local gymnasiums and in the basement of his home with nearly no interruptions for nearly a quarter century.
Former gymnast Madison Bonofiglio told the court Wednesday that she knows of "at least 10" other friends who have chosen not to file reports despite being abused by Nassar. She said some decided it wasn't a good time for them to do so, and others "didn't think it had happened to them enough."
"It really makes me sad that some of my best friends think that because they were only assaulted by Larry five or 10 times that wasn't enough to matter," Bonofiglio said. "I think this really matters."
Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in state prison for seven of those 10 counts last week. He was also sentenced in December to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. Police searched Nassar's home in 2016 and discovered hard drives in his curbside trash cans that contained more than 37,000 illegal images.
Many of the women who provided impact statements during Nassar's sentencing hearings have said that they didn't realize what Nassar was doing to them was sexual in nature until they learned about his child pornography stash. Several others have said they dealt with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other health issues for years before realizing that their appointments with Nassar were the source of those problems when they read or heard media reports about his criminal case in the past year and a half.
Smith said she believes that many of Nassar's former patients received legitimate medical treatments that included the since-decertified doctor using his hands to manipulate sensitive areas of their bodies.
"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 told WWJ.
The women who say they were assaulted by Nassar cite the fact that he did not wear gloves, didn't allow other trained doctors in the room during these treatments and did not explain what he was doing as evidence that Nassar was touching them for his own sexual gratification and not in an attempt to heal. Smith called these decisions "poor judgment" by Nassar but said she doesn't believe that they indicate sexual motives.
"They may not have been as sinister as some people believe them to be," Smith told ESPN.
Despite his guilty plea, Nassar said in a letter he wrote to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina during his sentencing hearing in Ingham County earlier this month that he believes he was "a good doctor" and what he was doing was a legitimate medical procedure.
The six-page, handwritten letter was not released to the public, but Aquilina read parts of it before sentencing Nassar. In the letter, he told the judge that media reports had sensationalized his case. He said he was not sure that he was mentally equipped to sit through what ended up being seven days of victim impact statements.
Smith told ESPN that she and her co-counsel, Matthew Newburg, were not aware that Nassar was writing that letter before he sent it to the judge.
"That was a surprise to me," Smith said. "It was as much of a surprise for us as everyone else. He wrote it at a time when he was feeling particularly bad. I'm not sure that he was writing it to really profess his innocence or just to say how bad he was feeling."
Smith did not attend the final days of Nassar's hearing in Ingham County for medical reasons. She also does not plan to attend any of her client's sentencing hearing in nearby Eaton County, which started Wednesday and will likely continue until early next week.
Smith told WWJ that she imagines there will be appeals filed in Nassar's case, but she and Newburg do not intend to represent Nassar in those appeals.