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Death, arrest in stunning turn for Kerrigan family

Skater’s father dies; her brother held in assault

By Peter Schworm and Milton Valencia
Globe Staff / January 26, 2010

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WOBURN - The long-troubled oldest brother of Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan stood accused yesterday of attacking their father in a drunken rage and leaving him unconscious and bleeding on the kitchen floor of their Stoneham home.

The charges of assault and battery against Mark Kerrigan could become more serious if his father’s death two hours later is found to be linked to the attack.

The charges once again catapulted the Kerrigan family into the public eye, 16 years after Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee before the 1994 Winter Olympics in a plot orchestrated by associates of rival figure skater Tonya Harding.

Mark Kerrigan is an Army veteran who has battled substance abuse and mental illness for years, bouncing in and out of jail for violent crimes, including beating his wife. He also had a troubled relationship with his parents, who two years ago sued their son for more than $100,000 in unpaid loans and other money they say he owed them.

Kerrigan was released from prison in November after serving more than two years for punching his wife in the face and threatening her with a knife. His parents took their eldest child back in, letting the 45-year-old unemployed plumber live in the basement.

Kerrigan allegedly attacked his 70-year-old father early Sunday morning after his father refused to let him use the phone.

Daniel Kerrigan was taken to the hospital, but died a short time later.

Mark Kerrigan was arraigned yesterday in Woburn District Court, where he pleaded not guilty and was held on $10,000 cash bail.

Authorities said the cause of Daniel Kerrigan’s death has not been determined, and they have not charged his son in connection with his death.

A lawyer for Mark Kerrigan said the elder Kerrigan did not die from the alleged assault.

“He denies any responsibility for this,’’ said Denise C. Moore, who was appointed by the court to represent Mark Kerrigan. “He is quite distressed over his father’s death. He is grieving.’’

Nancy Kerrigan and the other family members did not attend the court proceeding yesterday.

A spokesman for the Kerrigan family, Nancy Sterling, said last night: “Dan Kerrigan was a wonderful husband for 47 years, a caring and loving father to his daughter Nancy and two sons, Michael and Mark, and a grandfather of eight. He was a valued and beloved member of the Stoneham community.

“The family’s focus is on mourning Dan and honoring his life and many contributions. At this time we ask that their privacy be respected.’’

Prosecutors said they will wait until the results of the autopsy on Daniel Kerrigan, expected to be completed in the next two weeks, to determine whether to bring more serious charges against Mark Kerrigan.

“Any further charging developments will be based in large measure upon a reliance on the final opinion issued by the chief medical examiner regarding the cause and manner of death,’’ Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. wrote in a statement released yesterday.

Mark Kerrigan is due back in court Feb. 24.

The 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan, allegedly to foil her Olympic chances, became an international spectacle while the skater competed in Lillehammer, narrowly losing the gold to Oksana Baiul.

In a police report, responding officers said they found Daniel Kerrigan on the kitchen floor unconscious and with a weak pulse. Blood stains were visible. Mark Kerrigan was in the basement, combative and intoxicated, and police used pepper spray to subdue him.

“He [Mark Kerrigan] stated that he wanted to use the phone and his father would not let him,’’ Stoneham police wrote in the report. “He said that he struggled with his father and put his hands around his father’s neck and his father fell to the floor. He said that his father was faking it.’’

Kerrigan’s mother, Brenda, who is blind, described to police a loud altercation that involved pushing and shoving, and police at the scene believed that Kerrigan had pushed his father to the floor, the report said.

Police had to drag Mark Kerrigan up the stairs, and he tried to wedge his head against the steps to impede them, the police report said. When police informed Kerrigan he was being arrested, he said he did not care. When an officer asked him if he understood his rights, he replied ‘ya whatever,’’ according to the report. Police found a bottle of Scotch in the basement.

Mark Kerrigan has several drunken-driving and drug convictions and in 2005 was released from a substance abuse treatment center run by the state Correction Department.

His lawyer said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and regularly receives counseling. He said Kerrigan served overseas in Egypt, but did not provide more details about his military record.

A longtime friend of the Kerrigan family, James Day, said the crime has left the family traumatized.

“It’s a tragedy, a no-win situation, and the family is grieving,’’ Day said. “The family is such a beautiful family. They’ve lost a husband, a father, and brother.’’

Day described Mark Kerrigan as an animal lover who feels most comfortable spending time alone with his pets, a cat and a dog, and said he was at a loss as to why he would harm his father.

In recent years, however, Mark Kerrigan consistently exhibited violent, erratic behavior and was in near constant trouble with the law. In 2005, he was arrested after verbally abusing his wife and throwing her possessions on the lawn. When police arrived, he threatened them with two large hunting knives, shouting “I want to die. Kill me please,’’ before being subdued.

His former wife, Janet Kerrigan, described him as a “mean drunk’’ who drank to deal with his problems.

“Mark made statements that he was going to kill himself, if not by himself then by the cops,’’ she told police.

The following year, while serving probation, he brandished a bow and arrow and later punched his wife in the face and threw her to the ground. He then ran at her with a knife as she jumped into a car. The couple divorced in December 2006.

Mark Kerrigan appeared before the Parole Board twice, an initial hearing in 2007 and a review hearing in 2008. He was denied parole both times.

In 2008, Daniel and Brenda Kerrigan sued their son in Middlesex Superior Court, demanding that he make good on money they provided to him. In court papers, the parents said Mark Kerrigan owed them $105,000 they had spent taking care of his dogs, paying the mortgage on his Wilmington home, and for paying the lawyer who represented him on assault charges in 2006.

A judge rejected the Kerrigans’ request to put a lien on their son’s home, saying there was “no credible evidence’’ that Mark and his parents had reached an agreement.

A retired welder, Daniel Kerrigan was remembered as a devoted family man and Army veteran. “If you looked up perfect father in the dictionary, that would be him,’’ Day said.

The funeral will be held Thursday in Stoneham.

Jonathan Saltzman and John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.