CHARLOTTE, Michigan: The enraged father of three daughters who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar lunged at the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and tried to attack him during a sentencing hearing in a Michigan courtroom on Friday.
The father, Randall Margraves, was nearly within striking distance of Nassar before officers tackled him to the floor in front of shocked spectators including his daughters. The judge later accepted Margraves' explanation that he "lost control" of his emotions and said she would not punish him.
The chaotic scene began minutes after sisters Lauren and Madison Margraves had concluded tearful victim statements on the second day of a sentencing hearing in Eaton County, following similar presentations by scores of other women through previous court sessions.
Nassar has already been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for his guilty plea in neighbouring Ingham County to molesting young women under the guise of medical treatment. He is scheduled to receive an additional sentence on Monday for his guilty plea to related charges in Eaton County.
At a news conference with his family and attorney hours after the outburst, Margraves, apologised for his behaviour, saying he was "remorseful" and "embarrassed" for losing his composure.
"I am no hero. My daughters are heroes, and all the victims and survivors of this terrible atrocity," he said, adding that he became enraged when "I had to hear what was said in those (victim) statements, and I had to look over at Larry Nassar shaking his head."
Margraves said he had never heard the explicit details of what his daughters endured at the hands of Nassar until he listened to their accounts in court.
A tall, burly man with thick grey hair, Margraves said his relationship with his daughters had long been "strained, distant and difficult. Now I know the main reason. The reason was Larry Nassar".
"Now I have to deal with the fact that I failed to protect my daughters," he added.
The courtroom disturbance came after Margraves, standing alongside his daughters and wife, asked if Judge Janice Cunningham, as part of sentencing, would "grant me five minutes in a locked room" with Nassar.
The judge replied that was not an option and rebuked Margraves for his vulgar language in calling Nassar "a son of a bitch" in court. Margraves then asked for one minute alone instead. The judge demurred again as some in the courtroom laughed uncomfortably.
The father then bolted towards Nassar, seated in an orange jumpsuit behind a nearby table. Margraves' daughters' hands flew to their mouths, and one of Nassar's lawyers moved to shield his client.
"WHAT IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU?"
Gasps, cries and shouts filled the courtroom as Margraves was wrestled to the floor, knocking items off a desk on the way down before he was handcuffed, while Nassar was whisked to safety.
"One minute!" Margraves demanded repeatedly, his head pinned down. As uniformed officers pulled him from the courtroom, he implored them, "What if this happened to you guys?"
The judge then ordered a recess.
The attempted attack underscored the anguish Nassar's abuse has caused his victims' parents, some of whom were present in the doctor's exam room even as Nassar, unbeknownst to them, was molesting their children. Several have spoken in court about the guilt they feel for exposing their children to a sexual predator.
"I failed my own daughter," Lynn Erickson said tearfully in court on Friday, as her daughter Ashley, one of Nassar's victims, wiped away tears.
Margraves' daughters had also described the impact on their parents. At Nassar's first sentencing hearing last month, his oldest daughter Morgan said her father "went out driving to look for him around East Lansing" after news of his abuse broke.
"I'm not exactly sure what he would have done if he saw him," she said. "However, he felt he still had to protect us in the way fathers do for their daughters."
The county sheriff said his office would decide by next week whether to seek criminal charges against Margraves for his conduct. An online fundraising page at the website GoFundMe had collected more than US$18,000 for the father's potential legal fees by early evening.
Following the recess in Friday's proceedings, the judge declined to cite Margraves for contempt of court.
"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."
Social media users expressed near universal support for Margraves.
"We all understand this father's action," said actor and pro-wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. "Nassar's punishment will go far beyond sentencing. Behind bars, he'll soon know what hell means." Mariah McClain, who testified about how Nassar abused her, said she had to leave the courtroom 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 U.S. 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.
(Reporting by Steve Friess; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall; Writing by Jonathan Allen and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Daniel Wallis)