|Subject: OT: January 6, 1994 ~It was 25(!) years ago today, Tanya Harding and her husband orchestrated the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, just before U.S. Figure Skating Championship first Ladies' Singles competition, attacked after a practice session at the Detroit Cobo Arena. ...
Harding denied any involvement in the planning of the attack, but pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution.
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Date Posted: Sunday, January 06, 02:00:41pm
Attack on Nancy Kerrigan and aftermath …
On January 6, 1994, one day before the U.S. Figure Skating Championship first Ladies' Singles competition, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session at the Detroit Cobo Arena. The assailant was Shane Stant, contracted to break her right leg. Stant and his uncle, Derrick Smith, were hired for this assault by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her one-time bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt. After failing to find Kerrigan at her Massachusetts training rink, Stant had taken a 20-hour bus trip to Detroit. Nancy Kerrigan was walking behind a curtain to a corridor when Stant rushed behind her. Using both hands, he then swung a 21 in (53 cm) ASP telescopic baton at her right leg, striking her above the knee. The intent was preventing her competing in both the National Championships (Kerrigan was the defending 1993 U.S. Ladies' Champion) and the Winter Olympics. Kerrigan's leg was not broken but severely bruised, forcing her to withdraw from the Championships and forgo competing to retain the U.S. Ladies' title. On January 8, Harding won the U.S. Ladies' Singles title; she and Kerrigan were then both selected for the 1994 Olympic team.
On February 1, 1994, Gillooly's attorney negotiated a plea bargain in exchange for testimony regarding all involved parties in the attack. He was sentenced in July after publicly apologizing to Kerrigan – even though, he said, "any apology coming from me rings hollow."
Gillooly and Eckardt pleaded guilty to racketeering, Stant and Smith (who drove Stant in the getaway car and funneled money) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault — all served prison time. Judge Donald Londer noted the attack could have injured Kerrigan more seriously. On February 25, Harding finished eighth in the Olympics; Nancy Kerrigan, having recovered from her injury, won the Olympic silver medal behind Oksana Baiul from Ukraine. Eckardt was released from prison in September 1995 and changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith; he died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.
On January 11, 1994, Ann Schatz interviewed Harding at the KOIN-TV station in Portland, Oregon. Schatz asked if she had considered whether someone she knew had planned to attack Nancy. Harding answered "I have definitely thought about it. No one controls my life but me...if there’s something in there that I don’t like, I’m going to change it." Harding also confirmed she had spoken with FBI agents while in Detroit and again in Portland. On January 13, Eckardt and Smith were arrested – Stant surrendered to an FBI office the next day. On January 14, the USFSA made a statement regarding whether Eckardt's arrest affected Harding's place on the Olympic team: "we will deal only with the facts." Harding and Gillooly's lawyers publicly confirmed the couple were in daily contact and cooperation with law enforcement. On January 15, Harding and Gillooly spoke with reporters, but declined to comment about the investigation. On January 16, Harding's attorney read a news conference statement on her behalf, denying involvement in Kerrigan's attack. Harding left her home that evening to practice figure skating with her coaches, where she spoke with reporters and performed a triple Axel.
On January 18, 1994, Harding submitted to questioning by the district attorney and FBI with her lawyers. She was interviewed for over 10 hours – 8 hours into the interview, her lawyer issued a statement announcing her separation from Jeff Gillooly: "I continue to believe that Jeff is innocent of any wrongdoing. I wish him nothing but the best." Her full FBI transcript was press released on February 1. The Seattle Times reported the transcript stating that Harding had "changed her story well into a long interview...After hours of denying any involvement in trying to cover up the plot, an FBI agent finally 'told [her] that he knew she had lied to him, that he would tell her exactly how she had lied to him'." In the transcript's final passage, Harding stated "I hope everyone understands. I'm telling on someone I really care about. I know now [Jeff] is involved. I'm sorry." On January 19, Jeff Gillooly surrendered to the FBI. On January 20, Diane Sawyer asked Harding on Primetime Live about the ongoing criminal investigation. Harding said she had done nothing wrong. On January 27, it was reported that Gillooly had been testifying about the attack plot since January 26; possibly implicating Harding as having allegedly assisted. Harding's close friend, with whom she was living, spoke to reporters on her behalf: "[Tonya] was shocked, very hurt…She was believing in [Jeff], what he was saying." Harding later held an 11am press-conference to read a prepared statement. She said she was sorry Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, that she respected Nancy, and claimed not to know in advance of the plot to disable her. Harding then publicly took responsibility "for failing to report things [about the planned assault] when I returned home from Nationals [on January 10]...my failure to immediately report this information is not a crime." Many state laws including Oregon certify that the act of concealing criminal knowledge alone is not a crime.
Nancy Kerrigan's attack had received a lot of publicity; news media crews had camped outside her home. The story was on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and TIME in January 1994. There was now much speculation about Harding's own alleged involvement in the assault plot. As they would be competing together again in the February Hamar Olympic Games, speculation soon reached a media frenzy. Abby Haight and J.E. Vader, journalists for The Oregonian, wrote a biography of Harding called Fire on Ice, which included excerpts of her January 18 FBI interview. News media began regularly attending Harding's Portland practices, and unwelcomely recorded footage of her on February 7, running barefoot to stop a tow truck from hauling her illegally parked pickup. On February 10, Connie Chung interviewed Harding. When asked about Gillooly, Harding said "I never did anything to hurt [Jeff]. If I ever did anything, it was to stick up for him and protect him." Chung also negotiated to fly on the same airplane with Harding to Oslo, leaving on February 15, and interviewed her again in Norway. Chung admitted she would not have travelled to Norway were it not for the scandal. The media frenzy continued on February 17, when Nancy Kerrigan and Harding shared the ice at a practice session in the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre. Approximately 400 members of the press were there to document this practice. Scott Hamilton believed the sport was depicted as a "tabloid event." It was noted that Nancy Kerrigan chose to wear the same skating costume at the practice session that she was wearing on January 6. Kerrigan later confirmed that her choice of dress that day was deliberate: "Humour is good, it's empowering." The tape-delayed broadcast of the February 23 Ladies' Olympic technical program remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
On February 5, 1994, the disciplinary panel of the U.S. Figure Skating Association stated reasonable grounds existed to believe Harding had violated the sport's code of ethics. Her admitted failure to report information about an assault on a fellow competitor, supported by her FBI transcripts, resulted in Harding being formally charged with "[making] false statements about her knowledge." The panel also recommended that she face a disciplinary hearing. Claire Ferguson, president of the USFSA, decided not to suspend Harding's membership before any hearing took place. If Harding had been suspended, she likely still would have competed at the Olympics after filing an injunction on the USFSA and asserting her rights under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Evidence examined by the panel included the testimonies of Stant and Smith, Harding and Gillooly's telephone records, and notes found in a Portland saloon trash bin on January 30. Harding was given 30 days to respond. On March 9, Judge Owen Panner granted her a requested halt on the 30-day deadline to delay her disciplinary hearing until June 27. Meanwhile, Portland authorities stated the criminal investigation would conclude by March 21 with any indictments and a grand jury report to be made at that time.
On March 16, 1994, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution as a Class C felony offense at a Multnomah County court hearing. She and her lawyer, Robert Weaver, negotiated a plea bargain ensuring no further prosecution. Judge Donald Londer conducted routine questioning to make certain Harding understood her agreement, that she was entering her plea "knowingly and voluntarily." Harding told Londer she was. Her plea admissions were knowing of the assault plot after the fact, settling on a cover story with Gillooly and Eckardt on January 10, witnessing payphone calls to Smith affirming the story on January 10 and 11, and lying to FBI with the story on January 18. Law enforcement investigators had been following and videotaping the co-conspirators since January 10; they knew about the payphone calls. Her penalties included 3 years of probation, $100,000 fine, and 500 hours community service. She agreed to reimburse Multnomah County $10,000 in legal expenses, undergo a psychiatric examination, and volunteered to give $50,000 to the Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR) charity. Oregon sentencing guidelines carried a max penalty of 5-years-prison for the offense.
Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, donated $25,000 toward Harding's legal fees. She had also made approximately $600,000 from an Inside Edition deal. Harding's plea conditions imposed her U.S. Figure Skating Assn resignation, necessitating her withdrawal from the World Championships (for which she was scheduled to leave on March 17). District attorney Norman Frink stated that if Harding had not agreed to the plea, "we would have proceeded with an indictment on all possible charges...punishment was taking away [skating] privilege." Weaver said the plea agreement was satisfactory to Harding, partly because she avoided prison. Regarding trial concerns, he stated "we would have prevailed at trial." An executive of the USFSA commented "[We] don't know if Tonya is innocent or guilty...if [she was involved before] the national championship." On March 18, Claire Ferguson decided Harding's disciplinary hearing would still proceed in June. The USFSA's executive committee convened to discuss their position should Harding seek reinstatement and whether they might strip her of the 1994 National Championship title. Neither issue was decided at that time.
On March 21, 1994, a Portland grand jury issued an indictment stating there was evidence Harding participated in the attack plot. The indictment concluded more than two months of investigation and witness testimonies from Diane Rawlinson, Erika Bakacs (Harding's choreographer), Eckardt's college instructor and classmates, and Vera Marano (a freelance figure skating writer in Philadelphia). It stated there was evidence Harding fraudulently used USFSA provided skating monies to finance the assault. It also read that Harding, Gillooly, Eckardt, Smith, and Stant agreed to "knowingly cause physical injury...by means of a dangerous weapon." The grand jury foreman said the evidence inferred Harding as "involved from the beginning or very close." She was not charged in the indictment due to the terms of her March 16 plea agreement. On June 29, the USFSA disciplinary panel met for nine hours over two days to consider Harding's alleged role in the attack. On June 30, chairman William Hybl stated "By a preponderance of the evidence, the panel did conclude that she had prior knowledge and was involved prior to the incident. This is based on civil standards, not criminal standards...bank records, phone records – the way they came together to establish a case." The panel decided that pertinent FBI reports, court documents, and Harding's March 16 plea agreement presented "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship, and ethical behaviour." Harding chose neither to attend nor participate in the two-day hearing. Robert Weaver said the decision disappointed her but was not a surprise, and that she had not decided on an appeal. Harding was stripped of the 1994 U.S.
Championship title and banned for life from participating in USFSA events as either skater or coach. The USFSA has no dominion over professional skating events, yet Harding was also persona non grata on the pro circuit, few skaters and promoters would work with her. She did not benefit from the ensuing boom in professional skating after the scandal.
Shortly before the 1998 Winter Olympics, the CBS and Fox news divisions re-examined the scandal for two televised special reports. Harry Smith hosted the CBS special. He reported that Harding still held to her statement from her press-conference given on January 27, 1994: "I had no prior knowledge of the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan." Smith then interviewed Kerrigan, asking how she responded to that statement. Nancy Kerrigan referred to transcripts she had read from Harding's FBI interview on January 18, 1994. After reading through the interrogation of that day, she concluded that "[Tonya] knew more than she admits." The Fox special report was called Breaking the Ice: The Women of '94 Revisited, hosted by James Brown with interviews from Harding, Gillooly, and Kerrigan. Jeff Gillooly (granted a name change to Jeff Stone in 1995) said Harding's prison evasion did not anger him, and that he felt his own punishment was just. Stone reflected on Harding's position of "limited involvement" in Kerrigan's attack and speculated that a "guilty conscience" still troubled her. Brown then mediated a joint interview with both Kerrigan and Harding present. The two former competitors shared sincere desires for happy families and general well-wishes toward one other. Nancy Kerrigan said she hoped Harding could learn from past mistakes and "find happiness." Harding said she was grateful to personally express remorse to Kerrigan again.
In Harding's 2008 biography, The Tonya Tapes (transcribed by Lynda D. Prouse from recorded interviews), she stated that she wanted to call the FBI in 1994 to reveal what she knew, but decided not to when Gillooly allegedly threatened her with death following a gunpoint gang rape by him and two other men she did not know. Jeff (Gillooly) Stone responded with surprise that groundless claims against him could be published and specifically contended her gang rape accusation to be "utterly ridiculous." In 2013, Deadspin sought Jeff Stone for an interview and he again defended himself from the gunpoint gang rape allegation. Yet he expressed regret that Harding is often "remembered for what I talked her into doing," meaning allegedly plotting to injure Nancy Kerrigan. Stone admitted that his past stupidity was part of Harding's 1994 ruin and maintained that he still considered her a great figure skater. He also said "I've had it easy, compared to poor Tonya...she tends to be the butt of the joke. It's kind of sad to me."
In 2014, Nancy Kerrigan addressed the scandal during a brief interview with sportscaster Bob Costas: "Whatever apology Tonya has given, I accept it. It's time for all us – I've always wished [Tonya] well – she has her own family, I have my family. It's time to make that our focus and move on with our lives."
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