Gymnastics: Larry Nassar sentencing hearing halted as father lunges at disgraced doctor

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Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor, is escorted into the courtroom during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, US on Jan 24, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - The enraged father of three daughters sexually abused by Larry Nassar charged towards the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and tried to attack him during a sentencing hearing in a Michigan courtroom on Friday (Feb 2).

Randall Margraves was nearly within striking distance of Nassar before officers tackled him roughly to the ground in front of his shocked daughters.

The judge later accepted Margraves' account that he "lost control" of his emotions and said she would not punish him.

The chaotic scene began after sisters Lauren and Madison Margraves had finished their tearful victim statements on the second day of a sentencing hearing in Eaton County, much as nearly 200 women, including Margraves' third daughter, did in earlier court sessions.

Standing alongside his daughters and wife, Randall Margraves, a tall man with an intense gaze dressed in an electricians' union sweatshirt, then asked to speak.

"I would ask you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes in a locked room with this demon," he said to the judge, gesturing toward Nassar, who has already been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison at an earlier hearing after pleading guilty to molesting young women under the guise of medical treatment.

Judge Janice Cunningham told him he knew she could not do that, and chastised him after he called Nassar a son of a b***h. He asked for one minute alone instead. The judge demurred as some in the courtroom laughed uncomfortably.

Margraves then bolted towards Nassar, seated in an orange jump suit behind a nearby table. His daughters' hands flew to their mouths, and one of Nassar's lawyers moved to shield his client.

Gasps, cries and shouts filled the courtroom as Margraves was wrestled to the ground, knocking things off a desk on the way down, and handcuffed while Nassar was taken out to safety.

"One minute!" he demanded repeatedly, his head pinned to the floor. As officers pulled him from the room, he implored them, "What if this happened to you guys?" Some victims fled the room in tears.

Looking distressed, the lead prosecutor, Angela Povilaitis, turned to the victims and relatives in the courtroom and tried to restore calm, saying she did not want to see anyone else end up in custody.

"I understand Mr Margraves' frustration but you cannot do this," she said.

"This is not helping your children."

SCARY SCENE

The hearing resumed after a short break, with the judge addressing what she called a "scary" scene.

"My heart started beating fast and my legs started shaking," Cunningham said. "We cannot react by using physical violence," she told the courtroom, noting she could not imagine Margraves' pain as a father. Nassar was back in his seat, looking downcast.

The attempted attack underscored the pain Nassar's abuse has caused his victims' parents. Several have spoken in court during the sentencing, describing the guilt they feel for delivering their children to a sexual predator.

"Our jobs as parents are to protect our children," Lynn Erickson said tearfully on Friday a few hours after Margraves' outburst, as her daughter Ashley, one of Nassar's victims, wiped away tears. "I failed my own daughter."

During the lunch break, a handcuffed Margraves was brought back in from a courthouse cell for the judge to decide whether to hold him in contempt.

Accompanied by a lawyer, Margraves said he did not know exactly what his daughters were going to say.

"I got to hear that, and I got to see Larry Nassar over here shaking his head 'no,' like it didn't happen," he said. "I lost control."

The judge accepted his explanation, though she made him promise he would not do anything like that again.

"There is no way that this court is going to issue any type of punishment, given the circumstances of this case," Cunningham said. "My heart does go out to you and your family for what has happened to you."

The county sheriff said his office would decide by next week whether to charge Margraves. Online fund-raising efforts to cover his possible legal fees had collected thousands of dollars within hours.

Victims and their relatives had mixed feelings about the commotion.

"If he had gotten some licks in, I wouldn't have cried over it," Lavonda Simon, whose daughter was among Nassar's victims, said.

But Mariah McClain, who testified about Nassar's abuse of her, said she had to leave when Margraves erupted.

"It was just too much for me," she said.

The case against Nassar, who is also serving a 60-year federal term for child pornography convictions, has sparked investigations into how US Olympic officials; USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body; and Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked, failed to investigate complaints about him going back years.

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