In the revealing new HBO documentary At the Heart of Gold, Larry Nassar’s attorney, Shannon Smith, opens up about her client, calling the 37,000 graphic videos and images of child pornography law enforcement found in his possession, “not a high volume.”
Directed by Erin Lee Carr, who is known for her work on the Gypsy Rose Blanchard documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, the film mixes archival footage and interviews with victims to reveal how a culture of silence allowed Nassar to get away with sexually abusing young female gymnasts for decades while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Its release comes after Nassar pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct, including federal child pornography charges, and was sentenced to up to 125 years in prison. The ruling is currently under appeal by Smith.
The lawyer appears only briefly in the documentary to ferociously defend her client by saying there are, “hundreds of people that support him, 100 percent. We have received countless emails and communications from other doctors, physicians, psychical therapists, ex-patients, ex-coworkers supporting him. There’s no doubt he has a ton of support.”
She goes on to to talk about the death threats she’s gotten for working with Nassar. “My office and my family were getting death threats,” she says. “My co-counsel was getting death threats on his children. It felt like you were really part of a mob, and it was just adding a constant fuel to a fire. It’s almost like that kind of an explosion was inevitable.”
Carr told The Hollywood Reporter their interview with Smith for the film got, “spicy.”
“I was deeply impressed with her that she sat down for an interview,” she told the publication. “He’s obviously the villain in this piece through his own actions but to defend him is very challenging, which she did so vigorously.”
Executive producer Sarah Gibson added that, “It must be really hard to find compassion for someone who has harmed children. The fact that she showed up for him, it takes a certain kind of person to do that job and I was amazed.”
Smith represents a number of people involved in serious sex crimes, including a doctor accused of genital mutilation and an ex-football player that faced sexual assault charges. According to a piece on MLive, she graduated from Michigan State University College of Law and went into family law, specifically working on divorce cases, and eventually moved over to clients accused of sex crimes.
“I like the stakes being high,” Smith told the outlet. She said she gets pushback for taking these cases and constantly has people questioning her reasoning for doing so, but “by doing these cases, I’ve realized that a lot of my clients feel the same way I did, just with the bullying,” Smith, who told MLive she was bullied growing up, said. “The government has enormous resources, enormous power, unlimited funds to do whatever they want in pursuit of what they believe. I love the part of this practice that lets me help my clients escape a system that can very much be a bully.”
According to a bio on her firm’s website, in most of Smith’s cases, “the alleged victims are children and her clients are accused of the most serious offenses including criminal sexual conduct, sexual abuse, felony child abuse, felony murder and rape.”