Harding Talks to FBI : Figure skating: Interrogation lasts well into the night. Skater announces split with ex-husband.
Tonya Harding submitted to day-and-night interrogation by the FBI and local authorities Tuesday and announced at day’s end that she was separating from her former husband, Jeff Gillooly, who is under investigation in the attack on Harding’s rival for figure skating dominance, Nancy Kerrigan.
Harding skated in the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday to try and keep her form and then spoke with investigators deep into the night to try and clear the cloud over her name and keep her place on the U.S. Olympic team.
After nine hours at the FBI office here, while questioning was continuing, one of her attorneys issued a statement announcing Harding was separating from her former spouse after a four-month reconciliation:
“After a lot of agony, thought and evaluation, I have decided that it would be best for Jeff and me to separate. The events of the last few days have been difficult for both of us.
“I am innocent, and I continue to believe that Jeff is innocent of any wrongdoing. I wish him nothing but the best, but I believe during this crucial time of preparation for the Olympics that I must concentrate attention on my training.”
During the weekend, Harding’s coach told reporters the skater would distance herself if there was any evidence he was involved in hiring thugs to disable Kerrigan during the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships earlier this month, an attack that has captured interest and generated revulsion around the world.
As of late Tuesday, neither Harding nor Gillooly had been charged. But three men, including one with connections to both the skater and her ex-husband, have been arrested, and at least one confessed and blamed Gillooly for masterminding the plot.
Tuesday’s marathon meeting with the FBI was the first time Harding submitted to questioning by authorities since the attack.
She appeared somber at midday as she walked into the office building where the Portland FBI is headquartered. She was accompanied by an attorney.
Among other things, authorities are trying to determine if Harding’s money paid for the attempt to disable Kerrigan.
Gillooly, who has conducted a stormy seven-year romance with the skater, was accused of hatching the plot by Shawn E. Eckardt, a would-be bodyguard with a murky past. He is known to be a long-time acquaintance of Gillooly and was seen at Harding’s side when she returned from winning the national championships in Detroit.
Gillooly has declined to meet with investigators. His attorney confirmed that Gillooly paid Eckardt $3,500 shortly after the attack on Kerrigan. But attorney Ronald H. Hoevet said the money was for protecting Harding on her return from Detroit and for arranging security at a future skating appearance, which subsequently was canceled.
The attorney said $500 was paid in cash and another $3,000 from Harding’s skating fund--money that she earned in paid performances and money donated by supporters and fans.
“It was a legitimate payment,” Hoevet said. “This was the only time Gillooly or Harding paid Eckardt for bodyguard services.”
The attorney said Gillooly was in no rush to answer investigators’ questions because he is not on the Olympic team and feels no time pressure.
Authorities have not made him come in for questioning or subpoenaed him for fear of jeopardizing any future case against him. Under Oregon law, a person can remain silent and, if compelled to give testimony in a grand jury proceeding or other investigatory proceeding, can receive immunity.
“We don’t want to take that chance of him getting immunity,” assistant district attorney John Bradley said.
Also on Tuesday, the suspected “hit man” in the attack was extradited to Oregon from Phoenix to face charges of conspiracy and assault. Shane M. Stant is accused of clubbing Kerrigan on the leg with a metal baton. Authorities say they have motel records placing him in the vicinity of the Detroit skating championship during the days before the attack.
Stant was to be arraigned today.
Also today, a grand jury in Portland was to meet and review conspiracy charges against Eckardt, the mysterious bodyguard. He was arraigned last week and released on $20,000 bail.
A third man arrested for conspiracy was Stant’s uncle, Derrick B. Smith.
Meanwhile, in Detroit where the attack occurred, deputy police chief Benny Napoleon said authorities conducting their own investigation there “have not received anything that would implicate Tonya Harding. At this point in time, she is not someone we’re looking at.”
Wayne County, Mich., prosecutor John O’Hair and an assistant were to travel to Portland today to try an iron out what could be a sticky jurisdictional mess between Detroit, site of the attack, and Portland, where the conspiracy apparently occurred and where the arrests have been made.
Times special correspondent Stu Wasserman contributed to this story.
* CBS WINS: CBS has been awarded the U.S. rights to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. D1