Tonya Harding bargains her way out of jail and off the ice

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The Independent Online
THE LINGERING scandal over the attack on the American Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan took a extraordinary turn last night with reports that her arch-rival, Tonya Harding, has decided to plead guilty to a single charge of hindering prosecutors.

According to an ABC radio report, Harding, 23, has struck a plea bargain with authorities in which she has agreed to pay a fine of dollars 100,000 ( pounds 67,000), but will escape a jail sentence. She was due to appear in court in Portland, Oregon, last night.

ABC also said that the skater, whose story attracted huge interest worldwide during the recent Winter Olympics in Norway, would end her career as an amateur skater and have to resign from the US Figure Skating Association. She would also have to receive counselling as a battered wife and - according to a separate report - agree to three years of probation.

The news came as a shock to Harding's small but determined body of supporters, who have steadfastly insisted she had done nothing wrong in connection with the January attack. Kerrigan, who went on to win a silver medal at Lillehammer, was clubbed on the right leg by a hired hitman.

However, last month the authorities issued copies of a lengthy FBI interview with Harding which was interrupted when the skater confessed to investigators that she was not telling the truth. Earlier, she had admitted not going to the authorities when first suspecting members of her entourage were involved in the assault.

The grand jury deciding whether to indict Harding met throughout yesterday. Among those testifying were Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, her choreographer, Erica Bakacs, and a handwriting expert. Gillooly has said Harding was in on the plot and gave the final go-ahead.

The grand jury will make its final report on the Kerrigan investigation by Monday. Gillooly's long-time friend Shawn Eckardt admitted that the hitman, Shane Stant, and the getaway car driver, Derrick Smith, have all been charged with conspiracy. All three have confessed.

Gillooly, who lived with Harding until 18 January, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and, as part of a plea bargain deal, has agreed to testify against Harding. He is free pending sentencing on 1 April.

Kerrigan was hurt in Detroit, where she was preparing for the US Figure Skating Championships which she then had to miss. Harding won the title.

Both were picked for the Olympic team. Kerrigan won the silver medal; Harding came eighth.