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Published December 04 2010

Accused has no forensic links to murder, witnesses say

There’s no forensic evidence that ties Michael Nakvinda to the murder of Philip Gattuso, witnesses testified Friday.

Nakvinda is accused of beating Gattuso to death in Gattuso’s south Fargo home on Oct. 26, 2009.

Two witnesses testified Friday seeing Nakvinda at a South Dakota rest area off Interstate 29 the morning of the murder. Nakvinda was towing Gattuso’s 1999 Porsche Boxster, which went missing after the crime.

Darwin Lusty and Ray Griffith, both of Detroit Lakes, Minn., saw Nakvinda at the rest area.

When authorities recovered the Boxster days later in Nakvinda’s hometown of Oklahoma City, it contained numerous items believed to be stolen from Gattuso’s home – including a wristwatch and Apple laptop spattered with Gattuso’s blood.

The murder weapon – a hammer, stained with Gattuso’s blood – was also found in the Boxster.

But none of the fingerprints, DNA, blood or hair fibers collected from Gattuso’s south Fargo home, Nakvinda’s and Gattuso’s vehicles or Nakvinda’s Oklahoma City residence could be linked to Nakvinda, according to witness testimony Friday.

Testifying about the lack of evidence were Tracy Stastny, latent fingerprint analyst with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Stephanie Maier, forensic scientist with the State Crime Lab; and Hope Olson, director of the State Crime Lab.

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, for $3,000.

Nakvinda claims he was set up by Kirkpatrick and has never even been to Fargo. Earlier this week, Steve Mottinger, Nakvinda’s attorney, argued Nakvinda went only to Wahpeton, N.D., where he picked up a car at Kirkpatrick’s request.

After the investigation led authorities to Nakvinda in October 2009, a lengthy process ensued of executing search warrants, collecting fingerprints and other samples, and testing blood and DNA for potential matches to either Gattuso or Nakvinda.

Forensic analysts testified that several of the blood and DNA samples were found to be Gattuso’s, but others came back inconclusive and couldn’t be tied to anyone specifically.

Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren’s line of questioning inferred Nakvinda might have simply been careful when committing his crimes.

“It’s possible” to not leave DNA even when engaging in extreme physical activity, testified Olson, State Crime Lab director and the analyst who tested DNA samples for the case.

“To prevent DNA from being deposited, one can wear gloves, wipe the object with cloth or bleach or any cleaner,” she said.

But Mottinger emphasized that the evidence showed no connection whatsoever to Nakvinda.

Earlier in the day, Fargo police Detective Paula Ternes recounted interviews she had with Kirkpatrick’s wife, Sharon, in the days following Gattuso’s murder. She said Sharon Kirkpatrick confirmed the family’s ties to Nakvinda.

Nakvinda was the Kirkpatricks’ handyman. The Kirkpatricks have said they disliked Gattuso for how he was raising their granddaughter following the death of their daughter and Gattuso’s wife, Valerie.

A day after Gattuso’s murder, Ternes testified that she interviewed Sharon Kirkpatrick and led her to think that investigators believed Gene Kirkpatrick was involved with Gattuso’s death.

Ternes testified that Sharon remarked, “I can’t believe we killed Philip,” and made a statement similar to Gene Kirkpatrick about how she “wished they had a delete button for some people.”

In a taped interview played earlier in the trial, Kirkpatrick admitted his involvement in Gattuso’s death.

Ternes testified that Sharon Kirkpatrick was “very upset” after hearing a short while later about her husband’s statements to police.

“She couldn’t believe it,” Ternes said.

For his role, Kirkpatrick is scheduled to stand trial in March for conspiracy to commit murder. Sharon Kirkpatrick faces no charges and she has not admitted any responsibility in Gattuso’s death.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541