WOBURN, Mass. — The 70-year-old father of Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan spent the final moments of his life defending himself as his drunken, angry son put his hands around his neck and pushed him to the floor, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Kerrigan's 46-year-old brother, Mark Kerrigan, is charged with manslaughter in the January 2010 death of their father, Daniel Kerrigan.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Keeley said in her opening statement that the elder Kerrigan died of cardiac dysrhythmia — a loss or interruption of a normal heartbeat — after being pushed and shoved by his son during an argument over use of the family telephone.
"Daniel Kerrigan spent the last few minutes of his conscious life fighting off his drunk, 45-year-old son," Keeley said.
"And the final act, which triggered the death of Daniel Kerrigan, is when this defendant grabbed his father around the neck with such force that he fractured cartilage in the left side of his larynx and shoved him to the kitchen floor," she said.
'My husband is on the floor'
Kerrigan's defense attorney, however, told jurors that Daniel Kerrigan died because he had severe blockage of arteries leading to his heart, not because of the altercation with his son.
"Mark Kerrigan loved his father," attorney Janice Bassil said in her opening statement. "They want someone to blame, but sometimes things just happen."
Nancy Kerrigan listened from the front row as Mark Kerrigan's trial opened in Woburn Superior Court.
Prosecutors had indicated they may call her to testify about her father's health in the weeks before his death, but Keeley said Monday that it was unclear whether the prosecution would do so. Bassil declined to say if the defense plans to call her.
Nancy Kerrigan comforted her mother as prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call Brenda Kerrigan made to police the night her husband died.
Brenda Kerrigan is heard sobbing and pleading with a dispatcher to send help quickly.
"Um, my husband is on the floor, and I don't really know what is wrong with him," she says.
When the dispatcher asks what happened, Brenda Kerrigan says he fell on the floor.
"He, oh my God, I hope he's not dead. Oh my god, oh my God, oh my God," she says.
According to a transcript given to jurors, Mark Kerrigan can be heard swearing in the background, early in the call.
Brenda Kerrigan then yells, "Get away from him!"
The police dispatcher then asks, "Are they fighting in the background?"
"Oh, yes," says Brenda Kerrigan.
After the dispatcher asks her if her husband is still breathing, Mark Kerrigan gets on the phone. He tells the dispatcher his father fell down.Video: Olympian stands by brother charged in dad’s death (on this page)
"He seemed to have a heart attack," he said.
Both prosecutors and Kerrigan's attorneys told the jury that Daniel Kerrigan was diagnosed with coronary artery disease in 2003.
Bassil said he didn't tell his family.
"Daniel Kerrigan was a very, very sick man. No one knew it. Maybe he knew it, but he didn't share it with anyone," Bassil said.
Keeley, however, said Daniel Kerrigan was managing his health. She said he saw a cardiologist, was on medication and had been keeping his cholesterol and blood pressure within normal range.
"Daniel Kerrigan was an active man until the moments before he died," she said. "Yes, he suffered from coronary disease, but that's not what killed him. That man killed him," she said, pointing to Mark Kerrigan.
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Daniel Kerrigan's sister, Jean Bergeron, who was subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify, made it clear she was a reluctant witness, acknowledging that she had refused to meet with prosecutors before the trial.
Bergeron said her brother had complained about his neck being stiff and sore. She also said her brother looked "gray, very pale" in the days before his death.
Stoneham police officer Jonathan Mahoney, the first officer to arrive at the Kerrigan house, said Mark Kerrigan was belligerent, yelled profanities and refused to comply with orders from police. Mahoney said Kerrigan acknowledged that he had fought with his father.
"I heard him state that he had grabbed him by the neck and that he fell to the floor and that he was faking it," Mahoney said.
Nancy Kerrigan won the bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics and the silver at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She was at the center of a saga at the U.S. Championships before the 1994 games, when an assailant clubbed her right knee during practice.Video: Tonya Harding tells her story
An investigation revealed that rival skater Tonya Harding had knowledge of the planning of the attack.
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