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Rival's Guard, 2nd Man Held in Skater's Attack : Crime: Conspiracy charged in injury to Kerrigan. No warrant issued for Tonya Harding, officials say.

January 14, 1994|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

National figure skating champion Tonya Harding's bodyguard and another man were arrested Thursday in Portland, Ore., and charged with conspiracy in the attack on Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Shawn Eric Eckardt, 26, the bodyguard, and Derrick Brian Smith, 29, were arrested and held on $20,000 bail. But the two arrests were not expected to close the case of one of the more bizarre attacks on a sports figure. An official of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department said more arrests were pending.

Police sources said Eckardt has told authorities that Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, asked him to arrange last week's attack on Kerrigan at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.

Authorities said Thursday that no arrest warrant was issued for Harding, who has denied any involvement in the attack.

Smith, a former Portland resident, moved to Phoenix about five months ago, a prosecutor said. Authorities did not explain what role Smith played in the alleged plot but Fox News reported that Smith was the getaway driver after the attack.

Eckardt, in handcuffs, was brought to the Portland jail in an unmarked car. He did not answer reporters' shouted questions. Smith followed half an hour later, also handcuffed.

ABC News reported that a Portland man, identified as Shane Stant, was suspected of being Kerrigan's attacker at Detroit's Cobo Arena. The assailant escaped after hitting Kerrigan with a metal baton above her right knee as she left a practice session. Kerrigan had to withdraw from the figure-skating championships.

Harding, 23, then won the championship and was named to the U.S. Olympic team. The other Olympic spot normally would have gone to the second-place finisher, Michelle Kwan, 13, of Torrance, but the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. named Kerrigan to the team, presuming that she is able to compete in the Winter Olympics next month in Lillehammer, Norway.

On Thursday, doctors in Boston said Kerrigan's injured right knee showed improvement after two days of physical therapy. She has refused to comment on the police investigation, but her father, Daniel Kerrigan, said the attention would not affect her Olympic performance.

Kerrigan's agent, Jerry Solomon, told "Larry King Live" on CNN: "She's doing great . . . . She's in the pool everyday. She's doing hydrotherapy. Her range of motion in her knee is almost back to full range of motion.

"There is every reason to believe she'll be OK for the Olympics physically. As far as the emotional and mental side, I know she'll be OK that way because she is very strong and she's mentally tough and she's a great fighter," Solomon said.

Kerrigan won a bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France.

*

The investigation into the attack on Kerrigan has taken local police and the FBI to four states and spawned a cottage industry of rumors and falsehoods.

When Harding's name surfaced this week in connection with the incident, she called the allegations ludicrous.

"You guys know me better than that," Harding said. "I had my hopes for a long time of competing against Nancy and proving I'm as good as her and better."

But within a few days, stories implicating Harding's former husband and her bodyguard surfaced. Harding and Gillooly were divorced Aug. 28, but reconciled and have lived together since October.

Neither Harding nor Gillooly were seen publicly Thursday. They have not been at their Portland home since Tuesday, authorities said.

One of the first breaks in the case came Saturday when a woman from out of state called the Detroit Police Department, insisting on talking to Deputy Police Chief Benny Napoleon.

At a news conference Thursday, Napoleon said the woman told him that she had heard a taped conversation regarding the planned attack on Kerrigan several months ago.

He said the woman identified four people and he gave the names to the FBI. The plot allegedly involved Eckardt, Gillooly, an Eckardt acquaintance in Phoenix and a Portland man who attacked Kerrigan for $100,000.

*

Meanwhile, in Portland, a private investigator, Gary Crowe, said the FBI learned of the alleged plot from a local minister, Eugene C. Saunders. Crowe said Saunders came to him for advice after speaking with a friend who played him a tape recording of men alleged to be Gillooly, Eckardt and the unidentified Arizona man discussing Kerrigan.

Saunders, 24, was a classmate of Eckardt at Pioneer Pacific College in Wilsonville, Ore. Another student taking the paralegal course, Russell Reitz, told authorities that Eckardt asked him last week if he would be willing to kill someone for $65,000.

"I told him I wouldn't and then he asked me if I would break somebody's legs for $65,000," Reitz said Thursday.

Reitz refused, and went to the FBI.

Detroit police believe that they have the weapon, a collapsible metal baton, that was used to attack Kerrigan. A resident found it in a trash can behind the arena that was used for practice.

Harvey Schiller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said Harding's participation in the Olympics would not be affected by the attack on Kerrigan because "there's no indication that Tonya's involved at all."

The U.S. Figure Skating Assn. in Colorado Springs issued a statement saying it would not comment on speculation about the investigation.

Eckardt and Smith face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted on the conspiracy charge.

Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.

* HARDING PROFILE: Figure skater Tonya Harding has been surrounded by controversy for years. C1

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