Circumstantial or not, the evidence suggesting that Harding was involved in the attack on Kerrigan is considerable. Harding was living with Gillooly at the time that he, Eckardt and two other confessed conspirators in the assault, Shane Stant and Derrick Smith, were plotting the deed. Also, a USFSA official says that Harding's training funds were withdrawn by Gillooly allegedly to finance the assault. Is it possible that the plot to injure Kerrigan could have happened under Harding's nose without her knowing?
Even more damaging are the phone calls that free-lance journalist Vera Marano says Harding made to her to try to find out the name and location of the rink where Kerrigan was training. According to Marano, Harding told her she wanted that information to settle a bet. But that rink, the Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis, Mass., is where, according to the confessed conspirators, Stant originally sought to attack Kerrigan. In other words, according to Marano, Harding was trying to get the name of Kerrigan's training rink at the same time that, by a remarkable coincidence, Gillooly and his henchmen were seeking the same information.
Then there is this question: Why would Gillooly and Eckardt have suddenly enlisted Harding's participation in the cover-up of the crime immediately upon her return from Detroit on Jan. 10 if they had shielded her from all of its planning?
But evidence directly linking Harding to the plan is another matter. A note bearing the scribbled name of the Tony Kent Arena found in a restaurant trash bin might have implicated Harding, but only if the handwriting was hers—and Frink's office has not yet revealed whether such a determination was made. A Portland television station reported that Harding failed two of three polygraph tests administered by the FBI and that Gillooly passed one polygraph, but even if this is so, the results from such tests are inadmissible in court. Gillooly, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a racketeering charge in the case, is Harding's principal accuser, but he would have been a dubious witness. Not even a recent makeover—he has shaved off his mustache and tinted his hair—alters the fact that he has come across as vindictive toward Harding, who implicated him to the FBI.
All of which no doubt helped persuade Frink to consent to the plea bargain. The wheels were set in motion the night of Wednesday, March 9, when, by coincidence, Frink ran into Weaver at Kell's, a popular Irish restaurant in Portland a few blocks from Weaver's office. Weaver was there with his wife to celebrate the fact that earlier in the day U.S. district court judge Owen Panner had granted Weaver's motion for a temporary restraining order that blocked the USFSA from holding its disciplinary hearing until Harding's lawyers had had more time to prepare her defense.
Weaver and Frink had been amiable adversaries throughout the investigation. The two had spoken together almost daily. But Weaver had been so involved in litigation against both the USFSA and the U.S. Olympic Committee—a $25 million lawsuit filed by Weaver had cowed USOC lawyers into canceling a planned hearing in Norway that might have resulted in Harding's being barred from competing in Lillehammer—that he hadn't had time to focus on the possibility of a plea bargain. At Kell's, Weaver and Frink exchanged pleasantries, then agreed to meet the following week to discuss the criminal case.
"I didn't know what the grand jury was prepared to do," says Weaver. "But I had to prepare as if it would embrace Gillooly's version of the facts. I was genuinely optimistic about the option of going to trial. But I also knew that the possibility of settling would become more remote if we waited until after she was charged."
The talks between Weaver and Frink began on Monday and went back and forth for the next 48 hours. Weaver's primary concern was avoiding jail time for Harding. Frink won't say what his wish list consisted of, but sources familiar with the talks say jail time for Harding was on it, along with a guilty plea to the charge of conspiracy to commit assault. As for the provision in the deal forcing Harding to resign from the USFSA, Frink appeared to be frustrated with the performances of the lawyers representing the USOC and the USFSA, who had been outflanked by Weaver in their efforts to keep Harding from competing. "We had hoped to leave the matter to the associations and to their administrative procedures," Frink says. "But when it was demonstrated that they couldn't ban her from amateur competition, certainly that became something that was desirable to us."
By Tuesday afternoon Weaver had a pretty good idea what the terms of the deal would be, and he asked Harding to come to his office to discuss the pros and cons of pleading guilty. "Her purse is a portable apothecary," Weaver recalls, "and she was blowing her nose and hitting the asthma inhaler the whole time." Soon thereafter Harding agreed to the deal.
The sordid story of the attack on Kerrigan now enters a new phase. In addition to naming Harding as a co-conspirator, the Portland grand jury indicted Eckardt, Smith and Stant. Eckardt pleaded not guilty to one charge of hindering prosecution, he and Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to hinder prosecution, and they joined Stant in pleading not guilty to charges of racketeering, criminal conspiracy to commit assault, assault and secretly recording conversations.