Prosecutors Satisfied Justice Was Done
By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 1994; Page A20
Prosecutors said last night they were satisfied Tonya Harding has been held accountable for her role in the aftermath of the attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. Harding yesterday pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and resigned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Although Harding will face no jail time under the plea agreement reached with the Multnomah County District Attorney's office in Oregon, prosecutors said her withdrawal from the USFSA, which for now ends her amateur figure skating career, was punishment enough.
"You don't have to send someone to jail to punish them," said John O'Hair, the Wayne County (Mich.) prosecuting attorney, whose office has also been investigating the Jan. 6 attack in Detroit, which occurred in its jurisdiction.
"Here's a girl who comes from very modest circumstances, to put it charitably, who developed this unusual talent ... and her punishment is that her skating career has been tarnished, if not destroyed," O'Hair said.
O'Hair also said that the 23-year-old skater will have to bear the stigma of having pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to hinder prosecution of the case by previously stating she had no knowledge of the assault. She later said she found out about the attack after it occurred.
Sources close to the case said last night that Harding's attorney, Robert C. Weaver Jr., first approached Multnomah County deputy district attorney Norman Frink about working out a possible plea agreement on Monday.
But prosecutors rejected the original terms of the proposed settlement, which did not stipulate that Harding must withdraw from the USFSA, sources said. Yesterday afternoon, however, Harding grudgingly agreed to the terms of the agreement after raising objections about the withdrawal stipulation and the amount of the $100,000 fine and other money she must pay.
During those three days, the sources said, prosecutors kept in communication with Kerrigan and her attorneys to get their input as they tried to hammer out the plea agreement in Portland. Prosecutors in Detroit were also in regular contact with the Multnomah County District Attorney's office.
Law enforcement sources said that prosecutors were insistent that Harding relinquish her membership in the USFSA because attempts by that organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee to hold disciplinary hearings on her alleged involvement in the attack had been derailed twice in court by the skater's attorneys.
Weaver did not return several phone calls last night seeking comment.
But sources close to Harding said she chose to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge to head off the possibility she could have been convicted of more serious charges and be sentenced to a jail term.
"She didn't give up anything by pleading because she already said she knew about the attack after it happened after originally saying she didn't," one of the sources said. "Also don't forget she got to skate in the Olympics and she won't do any time."
The sources also said it became apparent that Harding would have had to pay far more in legal fees if her case went to trial than the $100,000 fine, as well as the $50,000 she must donate to the Special Olympics and the $10,000 in court costs that she must fork over to Multnomah County under the terms of the plea agreement.
One prosecutor, who requested that he not be identified, said there was sufficient evidence to charge Harding in the attack based on the grand jury testimony of her former husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her onetime bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt.
But successfully prosecuting the case could have been made difficult as a result of questions about the credibility of both men, the prosecutor said. Eckardt, hit man Shane Stant and getaway driver Derrick Smith have been charged with conspiracy to assault Kerrigan and are expected to be indicted before Monday. Gillooly pleaded guilty Feb. 1 to racketeering in a deal with prosecutors.
In an interview last night, Frink said that for his office to continue prosecuting Harding after she pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge would not have been in the best interests of the public.
"For us to go forward because we did not achieve each and every goal of the prosecution would have required massive resources," Frink said. "Just because she didn't say 'Uncle,' we are not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get her to say 'Uncle' when she has already pleaded guilty to a felony."
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