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Dave Roepke, Published November 05 2009

Hearing set in Gattuso custody case

A hearing has been set in the custody battle in-laws of Philip Gattuso are waging over the slain dentist’s orphaned 3-year-old girl.

Roy Gattuso, brother of the Fargo dentist, said a court hearing in Oklahoma has been tentatively set for Nov. 12. The Gattusos want North Dakota authorities to take protective custody of the girl, who is now in the care of a maternal aunt.

The custody arrangement worries the Gattuso family because the girl is with the daughter of a man accused of having the dentist killed.

“It’s as sick as sick can get,” Roy Gattuso said. “I want to see that my brother resting in peace knows that his daughter is safe.”

Police think Gattuso was beaten to death with a hammer in a murder paid for by his father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick of Jones, Okla.

The 63-year-old is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and his handyman, Michael Nakvinda – who allegedly received $3,000 for the Oct. 26 slaying – has been charged with murder.

Oklahoma courts have given Kirkpatrick’s daughter, Regan Williams, emergency custody of Kennedy Gattuso. Her mother and Philip’s wife, Valerie, died in March after an 18-month fight to recover from complications of heart surgery.

Kennedy Gattuso wasn’t able to attend her father’s funeral, held Wednesday in his native state, Louisiana.

Roy Gattuso, of Gretna, La., said his brother’s death was the result of his in-laws’ selfishness and obsession. Gene Kirkpatrick pressured Philip Gattuso to promise that if Valerie died, he’d give them full custody of Kennedy, Roy Gattuso said.

Refusing rapidly worsened the relationship, and Gene Kirkpatrick threatened to kill the dentist, Roy Gattuso said.

“My brother was a very active, loving father and family man,” Gattuso said. “Unfortunately, the Kirkpatricks were just very, very selfish individuals who thought that if they had custody, it would substitute for the daughter they lost.”

Phone calls to Williams’ home were not returned Wednesday, and a man who answered the door at the two-story brick home in the 12600 block of North Douglas Boulevard said she was not at home. The home is about a half-mile from Gene Kirkpatrick’s, about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

Rebecca Ann Harvey, 60, of Oklahoma City said she is a family friend of the Kirkpatricks who has been horrified by the headlines.

Her son was Regan Williams’ first husband. She never would have guessed her son’s one-time father-in-law would be capable of what he’s been accused.

Since Kirkpatrick was arrested on Monday, Harvey said she has e-mailed his wife, Sharon, who told her, “Don’t believe what you’re hearing.”

Harvey said that while Valerie Gattuso stayed in Oklahoma in the months before she died, Williams took over much of the mothering of Kennedy.

At Wednesday’s funeral, family and friends in and around the New Orleans area grieved the loss of Gattuso, and others he met in Oklahoma and the Fargo area offered sympathy to the family through an online obituary guestbook.

A couple of those paying respects included a Moorhead woman who said she was dating Gattuso, and a doctor in Tulsa who said she met him online.

Dr. Debbie Gladd of Tulsa said in her posting that she had recently met Gattuso through Match.com, and the two had been exchanging e-mail and talking on the phone frequently before his death.

“We were so looking forward to finally meeting over the Thanksgiving holiday when he and Kennedy planned to travel to Oklahoma,” Gladd wrote.

Amber Meikle of Moorhead wrote that she and Gattuso were dating, and that she loved and missed him and his little girl.

“He was a gentleman and absolutely loved Kennedy,” Meikle wrote in the online guestbook. “He took Kennedy to story time and IHOP on Saturdays and invited us along.”

New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Allen Powell II and Oklahoman staff writer Nolan Clay contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535