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Dave Roepke, Published August 03 2010

Nakvinda trial to stay in Cass for now

Attorneys will try to seat a jury in Cass County to hear the trial of one of two men accused of murder in the fatal beating of Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso.

Judge Frank Racek was scheduled to hear a motion to move the trial in a hearing in Cass County District Court on Monday, but the attorney for Michael Nakvinda withdrew it, at least for the time being.

“We’ll try to pick a jury and see what happens,” said Steve Mottinger, the attorney for Nakvinda.

Gene Kirkpatrick, father of Gattuso’s late wife, is accused of paying $3,000 to Nakvinda, his handyman, to kill Gattuso. Police believe Kirkpatrick wanted to gain custody of Gattuso’s daughter.

Nakvinda, 42, of Oklahoma City, faces charges of murder, robbery, theft and burglary, accused of killing Gattuso with a hammer. His trial is set to start with jury selection Aug. 10 and is expected to last nine days. Kirkpatrick, 63, of Jones, Okla., is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, with a trial set to begin Oct. 4. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Mottinger told Racek that he has reviewed 79 returned surveys sent out to potential jurors, a list of 85 questions meant to gauge impartiality, and that about half of them seemed to have ”pre-conceived ideas about what should happen.” The venue-change motion could be brought up again during jury selection. The prosecution filed a brief in April opposing the trial being relocated. The final call would be up to Racek.

Mottinger said he’s had several conversations with Nakvinda about requesting the trial be moved. He asked him before the hearing, “Anything changed since we talked last night?”

In the hearing, prosecutors also referred to a late addition to the state’s witness list, a woman Mark Boening, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, said will be “crucial” to their case.

“We consider this to be extremely valuable evidence,” Boening said.

Boening said he located the witness on Thursday in a trip to Oklahoma City.

“We didn’t even know her identity until I got down there,” he said.

Mottinger said Nakvinda may ask Racek to consider suppressing the testimony, preventing it from being used in trial.

Custody trial update

Philip Gattuso’s death has sparked a court battle for custody of his 4-year-old orphaned daughter, Kennedy Gattuso.

Temporary custody of the girl has been given to the family of Gattuso’s brother, Roy Gattuso, but Regan Williams, the girl’s maternal aunt, is also seeking permanent custody.

Philip Gattuso’s wife, Valerie, the sister of Williams, died seven months before her husband was killed, due to complications following a heart surgery.

A five-day custody trial in courts in Jefferson Parish, La., where the Gattusos are from, is set to begin on Aug. 23.

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