Brenda Kerrigan testifies in trial

Updated: May 18, 2011, 3:41 PM ET
Associated Press

WOBURN, Mass. -- The mother of Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan broke down and sobbed Wednesday as she testified for the defense at her son's manslaughter trial, describing how her husband collapsed "like a feather" after the two men got into a scuffle.

Mark Kerrigan is charged in the January 2010 death of his 70-year-old father, Daniel, at the family's home in Stoneham, just north of Boston.

Prosecutors say Daniel Kerrigan died after a drunken Mark Kerrigan put his hands around his father's neck, fracturing cartilage in his larynx and triggering a loss or interruption of his normal heartbeat.

Kerrigan's family has insisted Daniel Kerrigan died because he had severe blockage of his coronary arteries and that Mark Kerrigan is not responsible for his death.

With Nancy Kerrigan watching from the front row of the courtroom, Brenda Kerrigan testified on the day that would have been the couple's 48th wedding anniversary. She tearfully described the fight her husband and son got into during the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2010.

Brenda Kerrigan said Mark and his father had exchanged angry words the night before after Mark repeatedly interrupted his parents and aunt as they tried to watch a figure skating show on TV. She said Mark woke his parents after midnight, and her husband went downstairs to the kitchen, where he confronted Mark.

She said she saw her husband put his hands on Mark as he stood on the top step of stairs leading from the kitchen to the basement.

"He had his hands on Mark's shoulders and Mark said, 'What are you gonna do -- push me down the stairs?'" she said.

She said she saw the two men with their arms around each other in a "bear hug" moving back and forth.

Then, she said, she saw her husband collapse.

"He just fell down just like a feather coming right out of the sky," she said, sobbing.

As she spoke, Mark Kerrigan appeared to break down in tears, wiping his eyes with his hand and putting one hand to his face. Nancy Kerrigan appeared upset and hugged her mother after she got off the witness stand. She declined to comment as she left the courthouse.

Brenda Kerrigan told the jury she is legally blind but can see people if they are standing close to her. She is expected to resume her testimony Thursday.

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday after the state's chief medical examiner testified that Daniel Kerrigan died of heart failure triggered by the fight.

"In my opinion, that cardiac dysrhythmia was brought about by the physical altercation," said Dr. Henry Nields, who performed the autopsy on Daniel Kerrigan.

Nields also said he believes the fractured cartilage in Daniel Kerrigan's larynx was caused by him "being grabbed by the neck" with "a significant amount of force."

Nields said he noted on Kerrigan's death certificate that Kerrigan had hypertension and coronary artery disease because he believes his heart disease made him more prone to develop dysrhythmia and "played a role in why he died."

During cross-examination by Mark Kerrigan's lawyer, Janice Bassil, Nields acknowledged that Kerrigan had severe blockage of his coronary arteries. Because of that, emotional stress alone could have caused his heart to fail, he said.

But he later said, "There's really no doubt in my mind but that the physical altercation played a role in Mr. Kerrigan's death."

The defense also called Daniel Kerrigan's brother-in-law, William Schultz, who said Daniel Kerrigan appeared ill during the last two months of his life.

Schultz described an incident in November 2009 when Daniel Kerrigan used a chain saw to help him cut up a large tree limb that had fallen in his yard during a storm. He said that after about 20 to 30 minutes, Kerrigan appeared tired and pale.

"His coloring was gone ... he looked white, almost grayish in color," Schultz said.

He said Kerrigan appeared to feel better after resting and having a drink of water. About a month later, on Christmas Day, Kerrigan again looked drawn and tired and was gray in color, Schultz said.

Nancy Kerrigan won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, and silver at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

At the U.S. Championships before the 1994 Games, an assailant clubbed her right knee during practice. An investigation revealed that rival Tonya Harding had knowledge of the planning of the attack.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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