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  The Harding Plea Bargain

Washington Post
Friday, March 18, 1994; Page A28

ONE BIG COMPLAINT to be made about the guilty plea by Tonya Harding is that because of it, we may never know how much she really had to do with the violent assault on her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan last December. But one thing at least is certain: Ms. Harding is a convicted felon.

Her contrition was carefully circumscribed — "I'd just like to say I'm really sorry I interfered," she told the court — which is in the nature of plea bargaining, where a kid who steals a car and drives it all over the county at high speed may end up pleading guilty to something like "unauthorized use," making it sound as if he'd forgotten to ask Uncle Leonard for permission to drive the Buick to the 7-Eleven.

The offense Ms. Harding pleaded to in Portland, Ore., was hindering prosecution in the Kerrigan attack — that is, knowing about it after the fact and not telling authorities. But a deputy district attorney said that there was "substantial evidence to support Ms. Harding's involvement prior to the assault" (much of which evidence has become public) and that if this bargain had not been made, "we would have proceeded with indictments on other pertinent charges."

It would have satisfied some part of the public's curiosity to see Ms. Harding's former husband testify about what she knew, and when, and what she did. But given the nature of the key witnesses — alleged conspirators in the Kerrigan assault — and the odd, not to say bizarre, behavior of juries in a number of recent high-profile trials, who's to say the prosecutors didn't make the best possible deal? Ms. Harding will not do time, but then neither will she be coming out on the courthouse steps some day in the near future to announce to a mob of reporters: "I consider this a complete vindication."

As part of her plea bargain, Ms. Harding agreed to withdraw from amateur figure skating, a relief, no doubt, to the people who govern it. (She was just about to compete in the world championships in Japan.) But there's no guarantee she won't make a great deal more money out of her notoriety than she ever would have out of amateur skating. She already has a $600,000 deal with a TV show, and there will surely be others out to exploit this affair. That Tonya Harding should profit from the crime would be a sort of crime in itself, but one that's largely beyond the reach of prosecutors and for which a whole lot more of us than Ms. Harding would be indictable. The best way to prevent it is for enough people to decide that so far as they're concerned, the Tonya Harding story is over.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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