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Death of Nancy Kerrigan’s dad ruled homicide

A Massachusetts medical examiner finds figure skater Nancy Kerrigan's father died of a heart rhythm problem after suffering a neck injury so severe it damaged his voice box.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The death of the father of Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan was ruled a homicide Tuesday when an autopsy showed he died of a heart rhythm problem after a fight with his son in which he suffered a neck injury so severe it damaged his windpipe.

A lawyer for the Kerrigan family criticized the autopsy report about 70-year-old Daniel Kerrigan's death, calling it "premature and inacurrate." The family said Kerrigan had a pre-existing heart condition and they do "not blame anyone" for his death.

The examiner's findings could prompt new charges against Kerrigan's brother, Mark, who has pleaded not guilty to assault and battery on a person over 60 and is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital.

Kerrigan died Jan. 24 after what authorities said was a struggle with his son.

Police say Mark Kerrigan told them he put his hands around his father's neck and his father fell to the floor after the two argued at their Stoneham home.

Health complications
The autopsy results released Tuesday by Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said the elder Kerrigan also had underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure and clogged heart arteries.

"As a result of these conclusions of the medical examiner, the investigation into Daniel Kerrigan's death, and whether any charges in connection with his death are appropriate, remains ongoing," Leone said in a statement.

The findings imply a strangulation-type injury in a man already vulnerable to heart problems, said an expert not connected with the autopsy, Dr. Ian Paul, associate medical examiner for the state of New Mexico.

"The assault itself would have caused significant physiological stress," Paul said. "It would have put direct stress to the heart itself because the heart is working faster, and in somebody with underlying heart disease, they would be at a much greater risk of experiencing sudden cardiac death."

Leone said the medical examiner determined the cause of death was "cardiac dysrhythmia" after a physical altercation "with neck compression causing injury to the neck in the form of a cartilage fracture to the larynx area."

Cardiac dysrhythmia is loss or interruption of a normal heartbeat, which can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Neither Nancy Kerrigan, nor her mother, Brenda Kerrigan, could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman said the family planned to issue a statement.

Denise Moore, an attorney who represented Mark Kerrigan at his arraignment, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

'Belligerent and combative'
Daniel Kerrigan was found unconscious on the floor of his home by police responding to an emergency call at 1:30 a.m. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

** CORRECTS MARK KERRIGAN'S AGE ** FILE - This Feb. 10, 1994 file photo shows Daniel and Brenda Kerrigan, the parents of Nancy Kerrigan, a silver medalist in figure skating at the 1994 Olympics, outside their home in Stoneham, Mass. Daniel Kerrigan was found dead Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 in his home, and authorities have charged the brother of the Olympic figure skater with assaulting their father. Mark Kerrigan, 45, faces arraignment Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 in Woburn, Mass. District Court on a charge of assault and battery on a person over 60 that resulted in injuries. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, FILE)Susan Walsh / AP

Police said Mark Kerrigan appeared intoxicated when he was found on a couch in the basement of the home. He was "belligerent and combative" but coherent when questioned, police said.

"He stated that he wanted to use the phone and his father would not let him," the arresting officer wrote in a report. "He said he struggled with his father and put his hands around his father's neck and his father fell to the floor."

The officers said they saw blood near where Daniel Kerrigan had been treated by emergency workers and signs of a struggle, including three pictures that had apparently been knocked off a wall and a broken piece of the telephone.

Mark Kerrigan has a lengthy criminal record, with convictions dating to 1991, including drunken driving, assault and battery, domestic assaults, resisting arrest and violation of a restraining order.

In 2008, Kerrigan's parents sued him to recover $105,000 they had spent paying his mortgage at his Wilmington home, taking care of his dogs while he was in jail and paying for a lawyer who represented him on a 2006 assault conviction. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying there was no documentation of such an agreement.

He was released from county jail in November after serving time on an assault conviction.