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  Harding Admits Knowing of Plot After the Attack

By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 1994; Page A1




 Tonya Harding tells a packed news conference in Portland, Ore., that she learned about the plot to harm Nancy Kerrigan within a week after the attack. She said, however, that she had no role in planning the assault. (Jack Smith/AP)
PORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 27 — Tonya Harding admitted today that she learned about the plot to disable skating rival Nancy Kerrigan within a week after the Jan. 6 attack, but emphasized that she had no role in planning the assault and still hopes to skate next month for the U.S. Winter Olympic team.

However, the U.S. Olympic Committee issued a statement later saying it was "deeply concerned" about Harding's admission, and the U.S. Figure Skating Association said it was forming a five-member committee to investigate Harding.

Reading a prepared statement to a packed room of reporters at the Multnomah Athletic Club in downtown Portland, Harding said: "I had no prior knowledge of the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan. I am responsible, however, for failing to report things I learned about the assault when I returned home from Nationals [on Monday, Jan. 10].

"Within the next few days, I learned that some persons close to me were involved in the assault. ... I have since reported this information to the authorities. Although my lawyers tell me that my failure to immediately report this information is not a crime, I know I have let you down and have also let myself down."

In its early Friday editions, the Oregonian newspaper here quotes unidentified sources as saying Harding initially lied to investigators during her Jan. 18 interview. Sources told the Oregonian that then, after authorities accused her of lying, she conferred with her attorneys, amended her statements and implicated her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, who was arrested the next day.

In Oregon, as in most states, concealing the knowledge of a crime is, in itself, not criminal. But obstructing investigators, or lying about the crime if directly asked, could be prosecutable offenses.

"If all she had was knowledge a crime occurred, she may be guilty of an exercise in poor judgment, but I don't think she'd be a party to crime," said Portland criminal attorney Bruce Johnson. "But there's a difference between having knowledge of a crime, and participating in either the planning, or commission, or coverup of the crime.

"If a person is guilty of commiting a coverup, they can be guilty as a co-conspirator of crime, of obstruction of justice, something like that. ... If she assisted in a coverup by destroying evidence, interfering with a government investigation, she could also be prosecuted."

Neither Harding nor her attorneys took questions after the skater finished reading the statement in a tremulous, often halting voice. Harding, who stands 5 feet 1, spoke from atop a small footstool to ensure she could see over the podium and its thicket of protruding microphones. She wore the red-white-and-blue team warmup she received for landing a spot on the 1991 U.S. world championship team. Her hands shook noticeably as she spoke.

Harding began by saying "how sorry I am about what happened to Nancy Kerrigan. I am embarrassed and ashamed to think that anyone close to me could be involved. I was disappointed not to have the opportunity to compete against Nancy at nationals. I have a great deal of respect for Nancy."

Regarding her admitted delay in going to investigators, Harding said: "Many of you will be unable to forgive me for that. It will be difficult for me to forgive myself."

Harding's 11 a.m. news conference came less than an hour after her truncated 30-minute practice session at her usual rink at the Clackamas Town Center Mall.

Minutes before Harding began her news conference, Gillooly and his attorney, Ronald H. Hoevet, entered FBI offices in downtown Portland to resume their meetings with investigators about the case.

Gillooly and Hoevet did not emerge until nearly 10 p.m., almost 11 hours after they first went in. Neither made any comment for reporters waiting outside.

Gillooly, sometime bodyguard Shawn Eric Eckardt, alleged getaway car driver Derrick Smith, and suspected attacker Shane Minoaka Stant have all been charged with conspiracy to commit the Kerrigan attack.

Though Eckardt, Smith and Stant have all confessed to having a role in the assault, Gillooly has publicly maintained his innocence. A grand jury is now meeting to consider handing down indictments against the four men. Despite persistent reports that her arrest is imminent, Harding has not been charged.

On Wednesday, Gillooly met for 5½ hours with an FBI agent and representative from the Multnomah County Sherriff's office. Though neither Multnomah County officials nor Gillooly's attorneys will confirm it, sources have told a variety of news organizations that Gillooly is attempting to strike a deal in exchange for implicating Harding in the case.

This morning, Multnomah County deputy district attorney Norm Frink joined the meeting with Gillooly for the first time, then left after several hours.

While refusing to discuss the particulars of what was said, FBI spokesman Bart Gori said one reason the interview with Gillooly was ongoing is that Oregon law requires co-conspirators' testimony against each other be corroborated by other evidence.

"The more detail you have, the better chance you have of corroborating it," Gori said.

Eckardt has accused Harding of knowing about the attack on Kerrigan beforehand, helping in the coverup and calling Kerrigan's practice rink in Cape Cod, Mass., to get her practice times for Stant. Gillooly is also reportedly telling prosecutors that Harding knew of the plot beforehand and helped construct alibis.

Though Harding's statement contained few details, it did shed some light on what her defense or explanations for her conduct are likely to be if authorities find the information provided from Gillooly and Eckardt persuasive enough to charge her.

Harding's assertion today that she has committed no crime would seem to challenge Eckardt's assertion she was involved in a coverup after the attack. Harding's denial of prior knowledge of the attack challenges any charge that she was a co-conspirator before the fact.

As for her delay in going to authorities, Harding seemed to explain that today when she said after she learned "some persons close to me" were involved, "My first reaction was one of disbelief. The disbelief was followed by shock and fear."

When Harding finally did meet for 10½ hours with authorities on Jan. 18, deputy district attorney Frink said at the time that Harding did so at investigators' request. By then, Eckardt, Smith and Stant were all in custody. Gillooly was arrested the next day. It is still not known what Harding told investigators.

Once again, the credibility of who's doing the talking remains a monumental issue for investigators working this case. As Gori, the FBI spokesman, has emphasized the past two days, authorities are moving deliberately because the need for corroborative evidence will be crucial.

At the end of her statement today, Harding said again she wants to represent the United States at the Olympics.

"I still want to represent my country in Lillehammer, Norway, next month. Despite my mistakes and rough edges, I have done nothing to violate the standards of excellence and sportsmanship that are expected in an Olympic athlete. I have devoted my entire life to one objective: winning an Olympic gold medal for my country. This is my last chance."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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