01:18 - Source: CNN
Judge to Nassar: I just signed your death warrant (2018)
CNN —  

Michigan Lawyer Shannon Smith is part of the defense team representing disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in two state courts.

In his first sentencing, the court heard from more than 150 people who accused him of abuse. Now, in the midst of his latest hearing, the court has heard from 29 people so far.

But in an exclusive interview with WWJ Newsradio 950 in Detroit, Smith expressed doubts about the true number of victims.

“I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it,” she told WWJ. “I just can’t imagine that’s true.”

CNN made multiple attempts to speak with Smith on Thursday. She attempted to clarify her comments in a follow-up phone call with ESPN.

She said she was not denying that Nassar is guilty of assaulting some women, but that the number of people 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.”

In the WWJ interview, Smith acknowledged that Nassar agreed to let his accusers confront him as part of his plea. But, as more people came forward during sentencing, she said it seemed as if people who were “fine” before suddenly had a change of heart.

“There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar – and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations,” Smith told WWJ legal analyst Charlie Langton.

“Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.”

Her comments bore echoes of Nassar’s defense before he agreed to a plea deal. Once considered a respected physical therapist and osteopathic physician, he was initially prepared to defend the legitimacy of his treatment. In 2014, he told Michigan State University Police that he touched the breasts, buttocks and vagina of a patient who reported him to the school. But he said it was part of a medical treatment focused on the pelvic floor.

“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,” Smith told WWJ.

“While people are criticizing the techniques he used, there is undeniably proof that those techniques would take a girl who came into his office unable to walk and fix her in a way that she was able to compete the next day. So, I see good in Larry Nassar.”

Nassar: ‘I was not aware’

Her comments spread through the internet and beyond, igniting harsh criticism.

In the aftermath of his lawyer’s comments, Nassar sought to distance himself from them.

“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,” he said in a statement made through another of his lawyers.

“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.”

In Eaton County court on Friday, Judge Janice Cunngham said Smith’s comments were “unfortunate” but would not influence Nassar’s sentencing because he disavowed them.

“They are not relevant to the sentencing procedure, nor is the opinion of Ms. Smith, since her statements were not made on behalf of Mr. Nassar,” Cunningham said.

“What is relevant to these proceedings is for the court to hear each individual story and how the criminal actions of the defendant impacted each person’s life. I believe what each individual has and will tell me and it is their individual stories that are relevant to the proceedings.”

Doctors and physical therapists accused Smith of misrepresenting standards of care and possibly deterring people in need of such treatment out of fear.

“Yes, sometimes manual therapy is performed on sensitive areas, but consent and communication are always necessary before performing treatment, especially with minors,” said certified chiropractic sports physician Blake Graham.

“If you ever feel uncomfortable with being in a room with your doctor, you can always ask to have someone in the room with you. Physicians that deal with sensitive areas, exams, treatments are more than welcoming to that and most of the time insist on having someone else present.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct number of people who have given victim impact statements so far at Nassar’s latest sentencing hearing.

CNN’s Lindsay Benson and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.