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Published November 08 2009

Forum editorial: Good work by police on slaying

The Oct. 26 slaying of a Fargo dentist was followed by a truly outstanding demonstration of cooperative police work. As soon as the death of Philip Gattuso was determined to be foul play, local law enforcement, led by Fargo police, moved quickly to follow leads and provide information to the media and public that might result in more leads.

Leads were forthcoming, including one from a member of the public who spied Gattuso’s stolen sports car on a trailer behind a pickup at an Interstate 29 rest stop. The truck had Oklahoma license plates, which provided a vital link to Oklahoma City, Okla.

Within days, the first arrest was made. Michael Alan Nakvinda was arrested by Oklahoma City authorities and charged with killing Gattuso in a Fargo apartment by striking the dentist with a hammer. A few days later, Gene Carl Kirkpatrick was arrested in Oklahoma and identified as the mastermind in a bizarre murder-for-hire plot. Kirkpatrick is Gattuso’s father-in-law. Nakvinda is a handyman with a criminal record who had worked for Kirkpatrick.

It’s a story ready-made for a TV movie, except it’s real and tragic in the extreme. The death leaves a child without a father, but with a grandfather who is alleged to have paid for a handyman to kill her father. The story is unfolding on two fronts: the homicide case and a struggle within a troubled family for custody of the child.

The story within the story is the police work. Fargo authorities displayed patience and professionalism as they began their investigation. When they confirmed the Oklahoma City connection, they worked hand-in-glove with law enforcement officers in that city. Arrests of the two suspects were made within days of each other. Nakvinda was extradited to Cass County and made his initial court appearance late last week. Kirkpatrick is fighting extradition.

Fargo is not a crime capital. The slaying that made headlines last week was a shocker not only because of its brutality, but also because such crimes are rare here. A murder-for-hire story in a comparatively safe city is unsettling and disturbing. But Fargoans can take comfort in the knowledge that Fargo police and others in law enforcement have the skills and training to deal with a major crime.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.