Judge Rosemarie Aquilina awed the world this week with her scathing condemnations of Larry Nassar as she sentenced the former USA Gymnastics doctor to a 175-year prison sentence. As if that wasn't enough, news broke on Wednesday that showed us how humble she is, too. A tweet from MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid revealed that Judge Aquilina won't give interviews about the Nassar case unless a survivor is beside her, because it's "just not my story."
"This story is not about me. It never was about me. I hope I opened some doors," she said, "it’s just not my story."
Aquilina allowed all of Nassar's victims to speak at the trial, even though it was legally unnecessary. "Permitting the victim impact statements of all individuals who Nassar abused is the government’s opportunity to counter Nassar’s message: to demonstrate to the victims that they matter, that their lives matter, that the state stands ready to impose the punishment that Nassar deserves," she said by way of explanation.
The Independent called Judge Aquilina "the quiet hero" of the trial, but Aquilina seems determined to shift the praise onto the victims who spoke out against Nassar. In particular, she's recognized Rachael Denhollander, the first woman who came forward to accuse Nassar. The doctor molested Denhollander when she was just 15 and training as a gymnast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she said.
"You made this happen," Judge Aquilina said to Denhollander during the sentencing on Wednesday. "You are the bravest person I've ever had in my courtroom."
Throughout the trial, many praised Judge Aquilina for her compassionate words to the victims. "Leave your pain here and go out and do your magnificent things," she said to one woman. "You are so strong and brave," she told another.
"You have an Olympian voice," she told Jordyn Wieber, who was on the gymnastics team that won gold in the 2012 Olympics. "People will listen to you. I’ve listened to you. You are really very strong, not just as an athlete, but as a woman, as a survivor. I know you'll get past this because of that strength, because you had the strength to come here and talk." Wieber testified against Nassar in court last week.
She's been lauded just as much for her brutal conviction of Nassar as for those words of kindness. "I just signed your death warrant," she told him after delivering the sentence. "It is my honor to sentence you because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again."
Besides being a judge, Aquilina worked in the Michigan Army National Guard. She's also written crime novels. Her harsh, honest language earned her the nickname "Barracuda Aquilina," according to the Washtenaw County Legal News.
It's not just people who have been following the trial on social media who have praiseworthy words for the judge. Nassar's victims and their families have expressed their gratitude, too.
"Judge Aquilina, I applaud you," said Doug Powell, whose daughter, Kassie Powell, a pole vaulter who was molester by Nassar. "We applaud you. This room applauds you."
Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. It has been updated to accurately reflect her words.