Case study: Prosecutor in Nassar trial addresses Annual WCBA Bench-Bar Conference


Photos by Frank Weir

By Frank Weir
Legal News

The Washtenaw County Bar Association and its Judiciary Committee held their 30th Annual Bench-Bar Conference on May 3 at Travis Pointe Country Club, an event highlighted by a presentation from the lead prosecutor in the Larry Nassar case.

 The program included the presentation of the 8th Annual Public Service/Pro Bono Award to Saline attorney David Shand; a State Bar update from SBM President Jennifer Grieco; along with court updates from local judges Carol Kuhnke, Joe Burke, Richard Conlin, and Charles Pope.

The keynote speaker was Angela Povilaitis, a staff attorney for the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Treatment and Prevention Board, Division of Victim Services. Povilaitis, a former assistant attorney general, led the prosecution of Larry Nassar, the convicted serial molester who was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and a former osteopathic physician at Michigan State University.

A Wayne County prosecutor of child abuse cases before becoming an assistant prosecutor for the state’s attorney general in 2012, Povilaitis has long been dedicated to supporting victims of sexual abuse and assault and pursuing justice for them.

Her message was clear: all sexual assault victims deserve support and justice.

In her presentation, Povilaitis compared two cases she dedicated her “heart and soul” to in recent years: People v. Calvin Ray Kelly, which took five years of investigation, preparation, and effort with a trial that took place in Kalamazoo County; and People v. Nassar, a case that took 18 months to bring to verdict.

Kelly, an African American, is a Tennessee long-distance truck driver who was alleged to have attacked and raped a number of women in several states from 1985 to 2010.

“He targeted African American women who were poor and marginalized. He claimed they were prostitutes who falsely accused him because he refused to pay them—which they were not,” Povilaitis said.

She compared the Kelly and Nassar cases based on the judicial response, media coverage, societal response, and whether justice was ultimately served.

“In the Nassar case, we are all aware of a world-wide response with far-reaching media coverage, live streaming of parts of the trial, people submitting words and items of support for the victims, rallies of support, programs on television honoring them, and the like,” she said.

“With Kelly, there was an initial media response that quickly died away. No rallies, no public interest in the case, no national interest, no televised programs.”

And justice? Nasser was convicted and sentenced to some 40 to 175 years in prison, while Kelly was acquitted of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count each of kidnapping and attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

There were a number of pre-trial appeals in the Kelly case and Povilaitis said prosecutors in Memphis, where Kelly is in custody, are pursuing further sexual assault charges.

Povilaitis, in particular, told of the tragic fallout that impacted one of Kelly’s reported victims, Shawana Hall, and her bravery in being willing to testify against him.

“After the acquittal of Kelly, Hall took the verdict very hard, and relapsed with her drug use,” Povilaitis said. “A month after the verdict, she died from a drug overdose.

“The message I want to convey today is that we should always choose to help victims of sexual assault crimes, choose to promote healing, choose to believe them, and choose to support them.”