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Kathie Klages

Other Ingham County, Michigan exonerations
In September 2016, Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast, told reporters for the Indianapolis Star that she had been sexually abused when she was 15 years old during a medical treatment by Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a faculty member at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan.

After the Star published these accusations, Lieutenant Andrea Munford of the MSU police opened an investigation.

Over the course of the scandal that unfolded over the next few years, more than 300 women accused Nassar of sexually abusing them. Nassar was sentenced in three courts—two state and one federal—to consecutive sentences totaling a minimum of 140 years in prison. The reputation of USA Gymnastics was stained by the scandal; two Presidents of MSU resigned; a gymnastics coach apparently killed himself hours after being charged with trafficking; and MSU settled the civil lawsuits against it by the abused women for $500 million (the largest sexual abuse settlement by an American university at the time). USA Gymnastics settled for $215 million, and the Department of Justice Inspector General issued a scathing report documenting the FBI’s failure to act promptly on reports of Nassar’s crimes. The scandal was the subject of the 2020 documentary film Athlete A.

In its investigation, MSU police eventually interviewed a total of 1,187 witnesses. One of those witnesses was Larissa Boyce, who had practiced gymnastics at a club called Spartan Youth Gymnastics (SYG). On February 8, 2017, Boyce told the MSU police that she had been referred to Nassar 20 years earlier in 1997, when she was 16 years old, for a back injury. She said that her parents had attended the first appointments with Nassar but that after her parents stopped attending, Nassar began abusing her.

Boyce spoke about the abuse to another gymnast under Nassar’s care, 15-year-old RF. RF said that Nassar was abusing her too. Boyce said that a few weeks or months later she reported the abuse to a coach. She was then called into the office of Kathie Klages, the administrator of SYG. Klages was the women’s gymnastics coach at MSU, and she co-administered SYG with the men’s coach to help fund MSU’s gymnastics teams. Boyce said she told Klages that Nassar “was sticking his fingers inside of me and it felt like he was fingering me.” Boyce said that Klages said she had known Nassar a long time and he wouldn’t do anything like that. Boyce said Klages invited other gymnasts into the room and asked if Nassar had made any of them uncomfortable. They all said no, and Boyce said she felt “dirty” and “destroyed” and that Klages was accusing her of lying.

Boyce then asked RF to corroborate her accusations to Klages. At that meeting, Boyce said Klages “raised a piece of paper and said, ‘I can file this, but there's going to be very serious consequences for you and Larry Nassar.’” Boyce said she “felt defeated” and returned to the treatments by Nassar. She continued to see him until she was 20.

The police interviewed RF on March 8, 2017. She reported that she had also been assaulted by Nassar and corroborated Boyce’s account of the meeting with Klages, including the raised piece of paper, although her account differed in other details such as who was in the room. RF continued to see Nassar until 2012, when she was 30 years old.

Klages was interviewed by the police at least three times: in October 2016, January 2017, and February 2017. She denied knowing anything about abuse by Nassar.

Nassar pled guilty to federal child pornography charges in July 2017. On November 27, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. On January 24, 2018, he pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in Ingham County Circuit Court. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned the same day. On February 5, 2018, Nassar pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in Eaton County Circuit Court. All these sentences were to run consecutively.

At that time, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette launched a criminal investigation of MSU. On June 21, 2018, two investigators for the State, David Dwyre and Mary Sclabassi, interviewed Klages, who was 62 years old. In the parking lot before the interview, Dwyre told Sclabassi to turn on her tape recorder. Before the interview began, Klages and her civil attorneys asked the investigators not to record the interview. Dwyre then visibly turned off his tape recorder, but Sclabassi’s kept running.

Dwyre and Sclabassi asked Klages about the events recounted by Boyce and RF, events that had taken place 21 years earlier. Klages said she had no recollection of the events described by Boyce and RF. However, she agreed that if one of her gymnasts had told her what Boyce and RF said they told her, “I do not believe I would have ever forgotten that. . . . I was horrified when I saw what Larissa Boyce told her lawyer, I was just horrified.”

Klages said she had no recollection of Boyce at all. She remembered RF because RF was on Klages’s daughter’s gymnastics team.

Klages noted that she had sent her children and grandchildren to Nassar for treatment after 1997.

On August 30, 2018, Klages was charged with two counts of lying to a peace officer in the June 21 interview for saying that she did not remember that RF told her that Nassar sexually assaulted her, and that she did not remember Boyce telling her that Nassar sexually assaulted her.

Klages, who was traveling, returned to Michigan to turn herself in.

In 2019, MSU Interim President John Engler resigned amid an outcry after giving an interview in which he said some of the victims appeared to be enjoying “the spotlight.”

Klages’s trial was scheduled for February 10, 2020. On February 5, the state moved to preclude Klages’s expert witness, Elizabeth Loftus, a Distinguished Professor of Psychological Science and Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California, Irvine, from testifying at the trial. Loftus, an expert on memory, was prepared to testify about how memory fades and weakens over time and becomes more vulnerable to contamination. She would have discussed the suggestive activities that occurred in the case, such as media coverage and conversations with other witnesses. Klages’s attorneys—Mary Chartier, Takura Nyamfukudza, and Kurt Krause—argued that Loftus’s testimony could “help us understand why the defendant may have truly forgotten a conversation from decades earlier, and can also explain why other parties to the conversation may have inaccuracies in what they recall about the conversation after decades.” Judge Joyce Draganchuk granted the state’s motion, ruling that memory was within the common understanding of jurors and did not require expert explanation.

The next day, Klages appealed this ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals. On February 7, the Court of Appeals declined to review the ruling.

At trial, Boyce and RF testified about the abuse from Nassar and the meeting with Klages. Klages testified that she had no memory of the events described by Boyce and RF.

Over objections from the defense, prosecutor William Rollstin questioned Klages about her trial preparation. She said she reviewed some police reports and Boyce and RF’s interviews. Rollstin asked if she had participated in a "mock trial," and Klages answered that she had been asked questions and given answers but that there no mock jurors present.

On February 14, 2020, the jury convicted Klages on both counts.

At the sentencing hearing on August 4, Klages apologized. “Even when I don't express it to others, I struggle with what I’ve been accused of and what my role in this tragedy may have been,” she said. She said she had been seeing a therapist to try to remember the conversations. Judge Draganchuk sentenced Klages to 90 days in jail plus 18 months probation.

On December 1, Klages’s attorneys appealed Klages’s convictions to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Their grounds for appeal included the exclusion of Loftus’s testimony, the fraudulently obtained recording of the interrogation of Klages, after which the investigators lied about it, and prosecutorial misconduct for cross-examining Klages about her trial preparation.

The Court of Appeals did not rule on any of these issues. Instead, on December 21, 2021, it overturned Klages’s conviction, ruling by a vote of 2-1 that her false statement was not material to the criminal investigation that was being conducted. The court noted that “According to the prosecution, the decision that the decisionmaker [the Attorney General] was trying to make was whether anyone at MSU had committed criminal sexual conduct or misconduct in office by allowing Nassar to prey on young athletes.” However, “Dwyre never testified that he interviewed Klages to obtain information relevant to criminal sexual conduct or misconduct in office; rather, he interviewed her to gather proof that Klages had previously stated, falsely, that she had no memory of the conversations with Boyce and RF. . . . Thus,” the court concluded, “it was inconsequential, rather than material.” The court vacated Klages’s conviction and remanded the case to the trial court for dismissal.

The new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. On September 21, 2022, the court, in a one-sentence order, declined to review the ruling.

On November 17, 2022, Judge Draganchuk dismissed the case.

Klages was among five people besides Nassar charged in the scandal.

William Strampel, the former Dean of the MSU College of Medicine, would be convicted of misconduct by a public official and willful neglect of duty on June 12, 2019 and be sentenced to a year in jail.

Simon was charged with lying to police, but those charges were dismissed in May 2020.

In Texas, the Walker County District Attorney's office brought charges against two people, including former USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny. Penny was accused of being aware in November 2016 of a criminal investigation into Nassar's assaults on Team USA gymnasts at the Karolyi ranch near Huntsville, Texas, and ordering USA Gymnastics employees at the ranch to remove any documents related to Nassar. In addition, an employee at the training center was charged with second-degree child sexual assault allegedly committed by Nassar under the Texas law of parties which holds a person "criminally responsible" for an offense committed by someone else for which that person is responsible. The prosecution dismissed the charges against the employee in 2020 due to insufficient evidence. The charges against Penny were dismissed in 2022 for insufficient evidence.

– Simon Cole

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Posting Date: 4/6/2023
Last Updated: 1/2/2024
Most Serious Crime:Obstruction of Justice
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:90 days
Age at the date of reported crime:62
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No