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Published December 03 2010

UPDATED: Forensic evidence can't be linked to Fargo police's murder suspect

UPDATED 5:25 p.m.

Despite exhaustive biological testing, none of the forensic evidence in the Phillip Gattuso murder can be linked to the man police accuse of the crime.

As the trial continued Friday against Michael Nakvinda, various law enforcement and forensic experts testified about the physical evidence retrieved after Gattuso was found bloodily beaten to death in his south Fargo home in October 2009.

For much of this afternoon’s testimony, Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren questioned witnesses about how the evidence was analyzed in the case.

The testimony highlighted the process of executing search warrants, collecting fingerprints and other samples, and testing blood and DNA for potential matches to either Gattuso or Nakvinda.

Several of the blood and DNA samples were found to be Gattuso’s, but others came back inconclusive.

Younggren’s line of questioning inferred it’s possible Nakvinda might have simply been careful when committing his crimes, but Nakvinda’s attorney Steve Mottinger emphasized that the forensic evidence showed no link between Nakvinda and Gattuso’s murder.

Nakvinda is standing trial in Cass County District Court for murder, robbery, burglary and theft. He’s accused of killing Gattuso at the request of Gattuso’s father-in-law Gene Kirkpatrick at a price of $3,000.

Nakvinda claims he’s being set up by Kirkpatrick and has never even been to Fargo.

This morning, Fargo and Oklahoma state law enforcement authorities and witnesses revealed further details how investigators came to suspect Nakvinda in the days following Gattuso’s death.

Fargo police Det. Paula Ternes said a Fargo police patrol car with an exterior camera captured images of an unidentifiable person walking toward Gattuso’s residence, the morning he was bloodily beaten with a hammer.

The footage, taken as the car was in the drive-thru lane of the nearby A&W Restaurant, shows only a person’s lower legs walking across the parking lot toward a hidden walkway that leads directly in front of Gattuso’s former home.

Ternes acknowledged the quality and detail of the video were “quite poor,” and the only identifiable aspect of the person was their white shoes.

However, she said police believe there is a “strong possibility” that the individual is tied to the case.

Nakvinda’s attorney, Steve Mottinger, pointed out several times the white color of that person’s shoes – compared to other surveillance video that morning showing Nakvinda wearing dark shoes.

Surveillance cameras at a South Dakota rest area off I-29 captured a man with a black pick-up truck towing a flat-bed storage trailer carrying a car tightly covered by a tarp. Police say the man was Nakvinda.

Two Detroit Lakes, Minn., residents testified they stopped at the rest area at the same time Nakvinda had been there.

Darwin Lusty and Ray Griffith were traveling to Nebraska when they passed Nakvinda on the interstate and later saw him at the rest area.

Both later identified Nakvinda out of a photo line-up from Fargo police.

Griffith said he chatted with Nakvinda at the rest area, and Nakvinda told him he was towing a 1999 Porsche Boxster – the same type of vehicle reported stolen from Gattuso’s home after the murder.

Griffith testified Nakvinda told him he’d purchased the car off the Internet and was taking it back to Oklahoma.

For more on this story, read Saturday's Forum.