Justice on ice: Tonya skates away leaving truth untold

March 18, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

The prosecutor has done his work. Soon it will be time for the congressional hearings.

There has already been the Newsweek interview.

"I made some mistakes," Tonya said.

Or was that Hillary?

Well, we all make mistakes. But the beautiful thing about plea-bargaining, as we learned in yet another lesson from the Kerrigan/Harding/Gillooly affair, is that we don't have to

necessarily own up to all of them.

Plea-bargaining is the don't-ask, don't-tell version of criminal justice.

Harding has pleaded guilty to something called "conspiracy to hinder prosecution," which isn't exactly the same as copping to something called "Yeah, Jack, I whacked the big-toothed broad on the knee."

We can only guess Harding did something worse than she admitted, perhaps something involving a failed Arkansas savings and loan. We have to guess because, by agreement, nobody official ever gets to ask her again.

Though the hearing was shown live on several TV stations, it did not resemble anything seen on Perry Mason. There was no tearful, on-the-stand confession. There couldn't be. Nobody even got on a stand. And the only drama was in seeing which lawyer was able to say "whereas" most often.

This is the state of late-20th-century American jurisprudence: no truth and only a passing acquaintance with justice.

So, we don't know. And now we'll never know.

This has some people outraged. Not me. I only wish we had plea-bargaining in our daily lives.

For instance, what if I did something really stupid, like sticking all the bills in my glove compartment and forgetting about them until the electricity was actually turned off (like that's never happened to anyone else)? I could have my lawyer meet with my wife's lawyer and plea-bargain down to, let's say, forgetting to take out the garbage.

I think I could get off with maybe 500 hours of community service and/or car-pooling the kids. And my wife, by agreement, could never bug me about it again instead of now, uh, reminding me at least once a month.

Besides, if we got the truth, the whole truth, etc., where would that leave the conspiracy theorists?

Nobody could come forth with evidence of a second whacker.

Oliver Stone wouldn't want to make the movie.

Elvis would be completely in the clear.

You wouldn't see Tonya on "Crossfire." Bob Novak (sneering, or is that redundant?): "You lied. Bill Clinton lied. All you white-trash people lie . . ."

You see. Everybody wins.

It is certainly true that Tonya got off pretty easily. No jail time (meaning she may never have her fondest dream come true -- to share a cell with Amy Fisher). She has to pay about $160,000 in fines and court costs, which comes nicely out of the $600,000 she supposedly got from the crusading journalists at "Inside Edition."

Yes, she was forced to give up amateur figure skating, but not before competing in the Olympics.

That was an interesting judgment. I wonder where exactly in the Constitution it says that a judge can kick a skater out of the world championships for conspiring to hinder a prosecution. It's probably right after the part about cruel and unusual whacking.

Which leads to the inevitable question: What now for Tonya Harding? I mean, besides some remedial work in skate-lacing?

You probably heard she has this $2 million offer to wrestle in Japan. That struck me as pretty weird. Most of the Japanese wrestlers I've seen were, let's say, a bit heavier than Tonya.

In any case, you can see the direction in which she's heading. From now on, she will have only freak-show appeal. Years from now, when she's nearly forgotten, Harding will be playing carnivals, working the tilt-a-wheel between shows.

In her immediate future, I can see her in a Villains-On-Ice kind of thing. You could have a Pete Rose hitting exhibition. Followed by a Shane Stant hitting exhibition. Tonya lying. Ollie North lying.

Not that Harding won't have her supporters in the meantime. Somehow, somewhere, somebody will see her as the victim. She'll probably even join a 12-step support group for people who lose their jobs after whacking a competitor.

Wouldn't that be the perfect '90s ending?

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