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  Bodyguard Says Harding Knew of Plot

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 1994; Page C1

PORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 20 — Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding knew about the plot to injure rival Nancy Kerrigan and grew impatient when the attack did not occur in the Boston area prior to the Olympic trials, her bodyguard said in an interview published this morning.

Shawn Eric Eckardt said Harding told him "you need to stop screwing around with this and get it done," according to a story in the Oregonian newspaper.

At a practice today, Harding refused to respond to the comment made by Eckardt, whose credibility repeatedly has been questioned by acquaintances. However, it was Eckardt's testimony to authorities that provided the basis for Wednesday's warrant and arrest of Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Eckardt has admitted to his participation in the alleged plot.

Harding continually has denied any involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on Kerrigan, which forced her to withdraw from the trials in Detroit because of a severely bruised right knee. Kerrigan was later named to the Olympic team.

Meanwhile, a letter Harding wrote to Kerrigan arrived at the Colorado Springs offices of the U.S. Figure Skating Association this week and has been read to Kerrigan, a source said. After Harding's bodyguard was implicated in the attack on Kerrigan, Harding announced that she had sent Kerrigan a letter expressing her regret.

In the letter — which the source said contained two sentences — Harding said she hoped Kerrigan would recover from her injuries and also wanted the United States to have the best team possible at the Olympics.

"For a personal letter, it's not very personal," the source said.

A Multnomah County grand jury, meeting to determine whether to indict Harding along with the four men arrested in the alleged conspiracy, heard testimony from Harding's coach, Diane Rawlinson, private investigator Gary Crowe, minister Eugene Saunders and other witnesses. The Associated Press said Harding's father, Al, also testified.

Three of the four people arrested — Eckardt, alleged hit man Shane Minoaka Stant and alleged getaway car driver Derrick Smith — are negotiating with prosecutors about plea bargains in exchange for their cooperation, a source close to the case told The Associated Press.

Gillooly wasn't trying to cut a deal by testifying against her, the source said.

On a day in which both Harding and Kerrigan skated well at their respective home rinks — Harding in Portland and Kerrigan in Stoneham, Mass. — Eckardt once again was at the center of the controversy linking Harding to the alleged plot.

According to the Oregonian interview, Harding spoke about the plot in a conversation with Eckardt at one of her practices last month while Stant was in Massachusetts trying to find an opportunity to attack Kerrigan.

Eckardt suggested she call Stant, but Harding replied, "No, I want you to do it," the bodyguard was quoted as saying.

Eckardt also told the newspaper in a three-hour session that Gillooly offered a $10,000 USFSA check as a bonus if the attack on Kerrigan was carried out immediately.

Eckardt's new allegations expanded on statements in an affidavit, filed by a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy, that led to Gillooly's arrest. According to the affidavit, Harding made two phone calls to Kerrigan's rink in South Dennis, Mass., to try to find out her practice schedule so Stant could attack her there. The affidavit mentioned a record of phone calls from the home Harding and Gillooly shared to the Tony Kent Arena where Kerrigan practices.

Robert C. Weaver, Harding's attorney, told the Associated Press that Harding denied Eckardt's allegations in the Oregonian interview.

"It's nothing we haven't heard before," Weaver said. "...Tonya denies everything he's said."

Weaver added that he did not know if Harding would be charged or cleared by authorities.

In the Oregonian interview, Eckardt described an outrageous series of ideas that led to the alleged plot to injure Kerrigan, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist.

He said he and Gillooly discussed how they would hurt Kerrigan with Stant and Smith.

"I mean, the sort of things that you would see in the movies," Eckardt said. "Like, you know, damage to the hamstrings and Achilles' tendons and things like that. One idea that was mentioned was: Let's get her in a car accident and bruise her up a bit. She can't skate with cracked ribs."

They then talked about breaking her right leg, which is her landing leg on jumps.

According to Eckardt, Smith and Gillooly also concocted an idea to have Stant leave a note beside Kerrigan after he attacked her. The note was supposed to be made of letters cut out of magazines and was intended to threaten other skaters, including Harding. The idea, the bodyguard said, was to make it appear that the attack on Kerrigan was part of a plan to terrorize the skating community.

Authorities have said no note was found.

As these bizarre allegations swirled around her, Harding sought refuge on the ice. "I felt better today than I have in a few days. I'm sleeping better," Harding told reporters after her first public workout since Jan. 8, the day she won the national title.

She said she will not withdraw from the U.S. Olympic team.

"My skating is my life," she said. "I go out there, and it's an out for me. I love it. That's the only time I'm getting any enjoyment right now. I have bad days where I can't think and concentrate. I hope it can get back to normal soon."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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