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Mother asserts in Kerrigan trial that there was no fight

Says husband, son briefly grappled, but no punching

By David Abel
Globe Staff / May 20, 2011

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Resuming her emotional testimony in the manslaughter case against her son, Brenda Kerrigan disputed yesterday prosecutors’ assertions that the fatal confrontation between her son and her husband was a “fight.’’

The incident that preceded the heart attack that left her husband, Daniel, dead in their Stoneham home in January 2010 lasted for less than 10 seconds, she said.

“It wasn’t a fight,’’ she said when questioned by a prosecutor in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. She watched the confrontation, which occurred in the family’s kitchen.

“If you said [it was a] physical altercation, that would mean some sort of physical fight, with punching,’’ she said.

“Did you see that?’’ said Elizabeth Keeley, the assistant district attorney.

“Absolutely not,’’ Kerrigan said.

Mark Kerrigan, 46, faces manslaughter and assault and battery charges in the death of his 70-year-old father, Daniel. Brenda Kerrigan, mother of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, and the rest of her family are supporting Mark.

As she fought tears in court, Kerrigan said she never saw her son touch her husband’s neck. She said he had his arms around her husband’s waist and that her husband had his hands on her son’s shoulders, as if they were in a bear hug.

“I didn’t see Mark grab him by the neck,’’ she said.

On Wednesday, the state’s chief medical examiner testified that Daniel Kerrigan died as a result of a fight with his son, echoing similar testimony earlier in the week from a cardiologist who served as Kerrigan’s primary care doctor.

“There’s really no doubt in my mind that the physical altercation played a role in Mr. Kerrigan’s death,’’ said Dr. Henry Nields, the state’s chief medical examiner, who was the prosecution’s final witness.

Nields noted Kerrigan suffered an acute fracture of cartilage in his larynx, which prosecutors say his son inflicted.

Defense attorneys have argued that Kerrigan died as a result of a long history of coronary artery disease.

Yesterday they called Dr. Elizabeth Laposata, a Boston University School of Medicine forensic pathologist, who testified that it was possible the cartilage fracture came after Daniel Kerrigan died, perhaps during the prolonged resuscitation effort or during the autopsy.

She said there would have been more bruising in his neck if the fracture occurred while he was alive, because the heart would have pumped increased amounts of blood to the area.

“Mr. Kerrigan didn’t have any signs of injuries on the skin of his neck or in the neck section, aside from the small fracture of the thyroid cartilage,’’ she said.

She described the fracture as very small and explained that the area, given his age and health, would have been “very brittle’’ and “wouldn’t take a lot of pressure to cause.’’

“There wasn’t evidence of significant pressure that would crush the tissue,’’ she added.

When prosecutors asked Laposata whether the heart attack was the result of a “demand event,’’ such as the struggle between the Kerrigans, she said, “It could have been emotional. [Mr. Kerrigan] could have collapsed from heightened stress . . . without any physical contact.’’

In her testimony, Brenda Kerrigan said she urged her husband and son to leave each other alone.

She said they were arguing because her son wanted to use the telephone and she and her husband refused. Police were called to the family house earlier that evening because Mark Kerrigan was allegedly using the phone to harass a woman.

“I said ‘Danny, Mark, stop it!’’’ she said. “’Will you guys stop it?’ ’’

She said her husband then suddenly and inexplicably collapsed.

“He fell very softly,’’ she said, gesturing to show how he fell in a slow motion.

Following yesterday’s court session, Nancy Kerrigan was involved in a minor car accident in Wakefield.

Nancy Sterling, a Kerrigan family spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that a tire came off Kerrigan’s vehicle while she was driving. Sterling said that Kerrigan had a flat tire earlier this week and that the tire that came off yesterday was a replacement. No one was injured in the accident, Sterling said.

Globe correspondent Stewart Bishop contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.