The Work of Another . . .
January 6. A date that may live in infamy. One knows that he must do the right thing. One knows that he must follow the Rule of Law. One knows that he should follow established norms and procedures. One knows that he should avoid the spotlight and try to avoid becoming the the story himself. Should all this be abandoned for short term gain?
Immense pressure has been placed on him. A number of people, including one quite famous person in a power position, has asked him to undertake actions he himself may question. These suspect actions may well, if not certainly, benefit those demanding such conduct. But, in the long run, will these dramatic actions benefit him? Will he and others involved in this scheme ultimately be remembered only for this dark episode?
Of course, these inquiries relate to Jeff Gillooly who orchestrated the January 6, 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Gillooly, soon to be ex-husband of Kerrigan’s rival figure skater Tonya Harding, served as the “mastermind” in having Harding’s bodyguard Shawn Eckardt hire hitman Shane Stant to club Nancy Kerrigan’s knee with a 21 inch metal baton as Kerrigan left the practice iceskating rink. Stant was to break Kerrigan’s leg and force her out of the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships as well as the upcoming Olympics. The plot was worthy of its setting having been developed in Gillooly’s double-wide trailer.
The attack took place 2 days before the national championships and, indeed, did sideline Kerrigan with but a bruised knee. Tonya Harding easily won the national figure skating championship without the competition of Kerrigan. However, the U.S. Olympic Committee still offered Kerrigan a spot on the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan together represented the United States at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics. The drama dripped from our television screens.
Tonya Harding initially denied involvement in, or knowledge about, the planned attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Cracking the case appeared none too difficult for the authorities as the baton wielding hitman, Shane Stant, turned himself in on January 14. Stant immediately implicated Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt. Gillooly surrendered to authorities on January 19 and quickly implicated his then wife, Tonya Harding.
As for her part, Harding apparently could not read the tea leaves or appreciate that she made deals with those who ultimately looked out for their own interests first and foremost. While her initial FBI interrogation was in process, Harding’s lawyer issued a press release noting that Harding and Gillooly were separating and included the following quote from Tonya: “I continue to believe that Jeff [Gillooly] is innocent of any wrongdoing. I wish him nothing but the best.”
Before the ink dried on that press release and from the the file of “No Honor Among Thieves”, Tonya Harding subsequently implicated Gillooly’s involvement in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan during this same interrogation. Harding stated: “I hope everyone understands. I’m telling on someone [Jeff Gillooly] I really care about.” Well, at least Tonya Harding felt bad about ratting out Jeff Gillooly who was busy ratting out Harding after the hitman ratted out everyone.
What became of those involved? Harding skated to a U.S. National Championship and a place on the Olympic Team heading to Lillehammer. After shedding tears for the judges about a broken skating shoelace during warmups, Harding finished in eighth place. Nancy Kerrigan’s knee recovered and she was awarded a place on the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. She took home a silver medal wearing the same dress she wore when attacked by Shane Stant. However, Nancy Kerrigan never gained the title of America’s Sweetheart which usually goes along with an Olympic medal in figure skating.
Stant and the getaway driver plead guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault. They each served jail time. Bodyguard Eckardt plead guilty to a charge of racketeering and also served time.
In a plea deal, Tonya Harding plead guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution. The guilty plea was conditioned on Harding’s resignation from the U.S. Figure Skating Association — a move which effectively ended her skating career. Harding was even frozen out of Ice Capades and all other skating programs where retired skaters go to earn a living.
But what of Jeff Gillooly? Until the knee-capping caper, Jeff was the guy to do all of Tonya Harding’s bidding. He would do anything for her and she clearly called all the shots. He was content to remain in the background while Harding received all the credit and accolades.
When called upon, Gillooly cast aside the rule of law in favor of improper and illegal acts. So what if others were torn down so that Harding could advance. So what if Harding would advance not on merit, but because Gillooly crippled the system. So what if America’s figure skating team might be viewed as a disgrace by the rest of the world. Winning is everything and all else be dammed.
But society has not placed Jeff Gillooly on a pedestal. In fact, to avoid more serious charges, Gillooly plead guilty to racketeering in exchange for his testimony against everyone else involved in the planning and executing the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The court sentenced Gillooly to two years in prison. Tonya Harding immediately separated from Gillooly and divorced him while, of course, wishing him the very best. Those good wishes did not last as Harding eventually sued Gillooly for damages over other issues. Due to unfavorable press over the incident, Gillooly changed his name after leaving prison. His last name is now Stone (at least he did not change his first name to Roger).
Marriage shattered, a convicted felon, forced to change his name, Jeff Gillooly eventually became nothing more than the answer to a trivia question. When viewed with the benefit of the passage of time, Jeff Gillooly deserves to be cast on the pile of “nobodies” who abandoned societal norms, rules and laws all with the aim of benefitting the nefarious scheme of another.
When he needed her help the most, Tonya Harding abandoned Jeff Gillooly. H.R. Halderman, Chief of Staff for President Nixon, ultimately served 3 years in prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice for his part in the Watergate break ins. Halderman committed the crimes for his boss and believed that a pardon would be his reward if ever needed. Halderman was abandoned by the one he served. More recently, long time Trump attorney Michael Cohen bragged that he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump. Cohen admitted to what the sentencing judge called a “smorgasbord of criminal conduct” in representing Trump. Cohen’s reward? Three years in prison and no pardon. Completely abandoned by the one he served.
Just some lessons to consider for those who may feel compelled to undertake questionable or disingenuous actions on a January 6. Just ask Jeff Gillooly, I mean Jeff Stone, about his memories of January 6.