Nancy Kerrigan, the former US figure skater who was once cast as hapless victim in perhaps the most compelling scandal in Olympic history, made an unfortunate return to the public eye today when her brother appeared in court accused of killing his father during a drunken late-night argument at the family home.
Mark Kerrigan, 45, entered a “not guilty” plea to charges of throttling and punching 70-year-old Daniel Kerrigan, causing him to collapse and die on the living room floor in the early hours of January 24. A jury must now decide if he is guilty of manslaughter, which would carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Nancy, like the rest of her family, is standing squarely behind her accused sibling. She said Daniel’s sudden death was a tragic accident caused by a pre-existing medical condition, and believes it is deeply unfair of prosecutors to blame it on a violent tussle that allegedly followed a domestic argument over the use of the telephone.
Whatever the eventual verdict, the trial later this year will open yet another sad chapter in a life that has already seen its fair share of drama and tragedy. Sixteen years ago, the world watched aghast as Nancy’s father carried her to a locker room crying “Why? Why?” after a mysterious assailant smashed her right knee with an iron bar shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
It later emerged that the attack, which occurred at the US Championships in Detroit, had been carried out by associates of Tonya Harding, Kerrigan’s main rival on the national squad. Both women eventually competed in one of the most-watched showdowns in Olympic history; Harding came eighth, while the still-injured Kerrigan managed to win a silver medal.
The poisonous feud between the two athletes continued for years. Kerrigan leveraged her standing as America’s sweetheart to make a fortune as a TV celebrity, occasional film star and Disney ambassador. Harding, who was cast as villain, was banned from the sport, but later became a fixture in the supermarket tabloids and appeared in a celebrity sex video.
To the delight of US media, Harding decide to wade back into the public eye in January, shortly after news of Kerrigan's father's death broke. Her spokesman released a statement extending “sympathy and condolences,” on the grounds that: “Tonya’s beloved dad, Al Harding, passed away in April, so she understands the grief Nancy and her family are feeling.”
Ms Harding will no doubt leverage her notoriety during the forthcoming trial, which will see Mark, a military veteran with a string of convictions for violent behaviour, accused of losing his temper and grabbing his father round the neck. The alleged attack caused him to fall to the floor, unconscious, before suffering a fatal cardiac arrest.
The case filed this week by prosecutors claims it marked the culmination of a dispute which had begun several hours earlier when Mark, who had been drinking all day, attempted, apparently against his father’s wishes, to telephone an as-yet-unnamed girlfriend who he’d also been arguing with.
When police and paramedics eventually arrived at the family home, on the outskirts of Boston shortly after midnight, Mark swore at them and claimed that his ailing father was “faking it.” He was led away in handcuffs after being subdued by pepper spray.
Despite the circumstances of that arrest, Nancy, who is these days married to her former manager and has three children, has joined her family in supporting Mark, who suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome. He is free on bail and is living with his mother at the family home where the attack took place.
Through their lawyer, Tracy Miner, the Kerrigans said yesterday that they do not believe Mark was not responsible for the fatal cardiac arrest. “We are deeply disappointed at the continued prosecution... We disagree with the decision to indict and look forward to the facts being considered by an impartial jury.”