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Brian Sean Griffith, 1967 - 2007

Tonya Harding's ex-bodyguard served time for Kerrigan attack

December 16, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Brian Sean Griffith, a former bodyguard to figure skater Tonya Harding who admitted a role in the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan during Olympics tryouts, has died. He was 40.

Griffith, a burly man who had often weighed more than 300 pounds, died Wednesday in suburban Portland, Ore., of what his doctor reported as natural causes, according to the Washington County medical examiner's office. The specific cause of death is expected to be listed when the doctor files a death certificate.

Formerly Shawn Eric Eckardt, Griffith had changed his name since the attack in an attempt to put it behind him.

Griffith, of Beaverton, Ore., was a 26-year-old unemployed high school dropout living with his parents and taking paralegal courses in 1994, when Harding was competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. Griffith, a childhood friend of Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was an informal bodyguard for the Portland-born skater.

That January, an assailant whacked Kerrigan above the knee with a police baton, forcing her out of the competition. The International Committee of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. granted Kerrigan an Olympic berth anyway, and she recovered in time to win a silver medal the next month at the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Days after the attack, Griffith confessed to the FBI, detailing a plan that he and Gillooly had hatched. The investigation also eventually netted convictions of Shane Stant, the actual attacker, and Stant's uncle, Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car.

Griffith was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early, in September 1995.

He started a computer business, Applied Information Systems Inc., in 2001, but Oregon state records show it was dissolved in 2005. He was also sentenced to three years' probation for misdemeanor assault in 2001.

Family members refused Friday to comment on Griffith's life before or since the infamous attack.

"Shawn Eckardt died a long time ago," his brother, Mike Skinner, told the Oregonian newspaper. "There is no other person than Brian Griffith."

Harding has always said she didn't know of the plan. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder an investigation and was banned from U.S. Figure Skating Assn. competitions.

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