Her Olympic status even more in doubt, Tonya Harding faced further incriminating accusations Tuesday as her ex-husband pleaded guilty and bargained himself a reduced prison term in the attack on her figure-skating rival.
Jeff Gillooly, in a written statement, called on Harding to confess that she, too, was part of the misguided plot from early on. Gillooly’s action was not without some spite, however.
Under terms of the plea bargain presented in Portland court Tuesday, Gillooly will be sentenced to two years in prison and fined $100,000 in exchange for his admission of guilt to one count of racketeering.
As part of the deal, he promised to assist prosecutors in convicting others in the Jan. 6 assault on Nancy Kerrigan. Prosecutors, in turn, said they would try to arrange incarceration in a federal prison. He was released until sentencing April 1.
Gillooly’s attorney, Ronald H. Hoevet, said he believed that would be the lightest sentence anyone would receive in the bizarre case, even though the 26-year-old former warehouseman appears to be the central figure in the conspiracy.
Officials speaking for Harding responded to the accusations by calling Gillooly a troubled man and denying his claims.
“Jeff Gillooly’s accusations appear to evidence a continued practice of abusive conduct intended to disrupt Tonya Harding’s life and destroy her career,” said a statement from the skater’s attorney.
As part of the court proceedings Tuesday, prosecutors released 123 pages of selective FBI interviews with principal figures in the case. That offered the clearest picture yet of the attempt to alter the outcome of the U.S. women’s national figure skating championships--through the eyes of the conspirators and those they spoke with during December and January when the attack was planned, carried out and then clumsily covered up.
The authorities also revealed they suspected that the Harding camp was involved almost from the start, apparently thanks to an anonymous tip.
In his confession, Gillooly said he lied to investigators in Detroit the day after the attack. And attorney Hoevet said Harding also lied when questioned in Detroit.
Then, from the time that Harding and Gillooly returned from the championships, which she won and in which Kerrigan was unable to compete, law enforcement investigators followed and videotaped the couple’s every move. At the time, they were divorced but had reconciled and were living together.
Harding has not been charged with a crime. But recently she admitted learning of the plot after the fact and not reporting it to authorities. On Tuesday, she continued her workouts at a suburban shopping mall ice rink, stopping several times to ask news photographers not to use flashes.
County prosecutor Norman Frink announced Tuesday that he was extending indefinitely the grand jury probe into the case. “There is a prospect of returning indictments against additional persons other than those currently charged,” he said.
Nearly two weeks after the attack, according to the FBI transcripts released Tuesday, Harding was questioned at length by local authorities and allegedly was caught lying. After she spent hours denying any involvement in trying to cover up the plot, an FBI agent finally “told Harding that he knew she had lied to him . . . that he would tell her exactly how she had lied to him.”
At that point, she adjourned for a conference with her lawyer and changed her story to say she had become aware of Gillooly’s involvement and had not told the truth to a number of questions. She indicated that she was at Gillooly’s side as law enforcement officials closed in on him.
She apologized to the FBI at the end of her interrogation and said: “I hope everyone understands. I’m telling on someone I really care about.”
Perhaps more incriminating is the disclosure of telephone conversations that Harding instigated with part-time figure-skating journalist Vera Marano, who writes for American Skating World in Philadelphia.
According to the FBI account: The journalist received a call from Harding about Dec. 27 inquiring where Kerrigan trained and where she lived. Marano told investigators that she was able only to locate Kerrigan’s practice rink, the Tony Kent Arena in Dedham, Mass., and passed that along to Harding the following day.
Marano said that Harding explained herself as having a bet with someone about Kerrigan.
But according to Gillooly and two other men implicated in the case, Dec. 27 and 28 were the dates when the final details of the attack were worked out in Portland. On Dec. 28, the suspected hit man in the case, Shane Stant, left Portland for Boston. He told authorities that he carried background information and a photograph of Kerrigan and instructions of how to reach the Tony Kent Arena.
As it turned out, the attack was not done in Massachusetts, and Stant told authorities he went on to Detroit. He told investigators he hit the skater with a glancing blow on her right leg with a police baton “with approximately half his force.”
Until this telephone record was revealed, nothing in the investigation--except the word of the plotters themselves--has provided anything to indicate that Harding may have been involved with preparations for the assault.
Speaking on Gillooly’s behalf, attorney Hoevet followed up his court appearance with a press conference in which he made several accusations about Harding’s involvement. Portland colleagues said they were shocked that a defense attorney such as Hoevet would speak so strongly, as if he were prosecuting Harding.
Hoevet read a statement designed to sum up the ex-husband’s account.
“The key date is Dec. 28, 1993,” Hoevet said. That morning, Gillooly met with Stant and the confessed get-away driver Derrick Smith. Also present was Shawn Eckardt, a friend of both Harding and Gillooly. He was once described as her bodyguard but now appears to be the go-between that brought Gillooly in touch with the other two men.
“Tonya knew that the purpose of this meeting was to discuss how they could prevent Nancy Kerrigan from competing for the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Championship. Tonya dropped Jeff off at the meeting and picked him up after it was over.
” . . . After the meeting, while driving toward home, Tonya approved of the plan that had been discussed and gave the OK for the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. The final decision was hers to make.”
How did she express her consent?
“As I understand the quote, it’s ‘OK, let’s go for it,’ or ‘OK, let’s do it,’ ” Hoevet said.
As for motive, Gillooly told authorities that he and Harding were upset at her fourth-place finish at an early December international competition in Japan, and suspected that U.S. Figure Skating Assn. officials would favor Kerrigan at the Detroit competition.
Gillooly appeared in court Tuesday and spoke only in response to questions.
“What is your plea?” asked Presiding Judge Donald H. Londer.
“Guilty,” Gillooly replied.
He did not appear afterward at Hoevet’s press conference, although his attorney said, “Jeff has a message for Tonya: He hopes that she will now do what he has done and move quickly to resolve the charges that will surely be brought against her.”
Hoevet said he and Gillooly both hoped Harding would be disqualified from representing the United States at this month’s Winter Olympics in Norway.
The lawyer conceded one point that could cast doubt on Gillooly’s motives in lashing out at his ex-spouse. Hoevet said the former husband had been willing to take the blame for everything, but then learned that Harding had pointed the finger at him. In turn, Gillooly decided to implicate her.
“Jeff was prepared to fall on the sword for Tonya,” Hoevet said.
Later Tuesday, the response from the Harding camp was backed up by attorney Robert Weaver, who denounced the “self-serving spin” of Hoevet and said the skater would not respond “in the arena of public opinion, which, as we have seen today, is easily manipulated and frequently uninformed.”
Weaver added: “I’m frankly appalled that Mr. Gillooly’s attorney has seen fit to immerse himself in this media whirlpool that threatens a hallowed system of justice.”
Gillooly and Harding have conducted a stormy seven-year romance, which has included marriage, divorce, reconciliation, violent quarreling, calls to the police and judicial restraining orders. Recently, they had come together again. But Harding broke off the relationship on Jan. 18, the day she was interrogated by the FBI in Portland.
In his plea bargain, Gillooly took responsibility for seven actual crimes, including conspiracy to commit assault, assault, destruction of evidence and perjury.
Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs, a special panel of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. met for the first time to review the case and decide whether Harding should remain on the Olympic team with Kerrigan.
Members of the committee may speed their work and make a recommendation on Harding before their self-imposed Feb. 10 deadline, said Bill Hybl, the former U.S. Olympic Committee president who chairs the special panel.
The U.S. Olympic Committee had no comment on Tuesday’s events. However, Frank Carroll, coach for Olympic alternate skater Michelle Kwan, 13, said he has been in contact with U.S. skating officials and briefed on possible contingency plans in the event Harding is disqualified.
Times staff writer Randy Harvey in Lillihammer, Norway, contributed to this story.