Dave Roepke, Published December 07 2010
Murder suspect takes the witness stand in his own defenseThe man accused of killing Philip Gattuso took the stand in his own defense this afternoon, though the trial stopped for the day before Michael Nakvinda discussed his claim he has never been to Fargo.
Nakvinda said while he’d seen Gattuso before at the home of the Fargo dentist’s in-laws in Oklahoma, he didn’t know that when he was arrested five days after the fatal hammer beating on Oct. 26, 2009.
“Until I was arrested and looked at the papers, I didn’t know that I’d met him,” Nakvinda said.
Nakvinda is on trial in Cass County District Court for murder, robbery, burglary and theft in connection with the killing. He’s accused of being paid $3,000 by Gattuso’s former father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick, to kill Gattuso. Authorities say Kirkpatrick wanted to gain custody of Gattuso’s 3-year-old daughter.
Kirkpatrick also faces a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and is set for a separate trial in Cass County in March. He testified Monday that he talked with Nakvinda about paying to have Gattuso killed but insists he didn’t OK the plans they’d discussed.
Nakvinda’s says he’s being framed by Kirkpatrick, who had hired the contractor to do several jobs at his 10-acre property outside of Oklahoma City, where Nakvinda is also from.
He’ll continue testifying when the trial begins its seventh day tomorrow.
The 42-year-old, who did a stint in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping in Oklahoma, claims he spent the night before the murder in a home in Wahpeton, N.D. He says he was asked by Kirkpatrick to pick up a car he’d supposedly bought on eBay and was directed to the Wahpeton residence via citizens band radio.
Nakvinda’s attorney said in an opening statement he woke the day of the murder to find his truck and trailer loaded with a car, which he drove back to Oklahoma.
Days later, Gattuso’s stolen Porsche was found in a storage unit Nakvinda had rented, with items stolen from the dentist’s home and a hammer with his hair and blood on it inside the convertible.
Former Cass County detective Dean Wawers, now a private investigator hired by the defense, testified he questioned Nakvinda three times about his story.
“What he said the first time, he said the second time and the third time,” Wawers said. “That’s a little odd.”
Wawers said using details Nakvinda had given him about the house he had stayed in, he found a home in Wahpeton that matched the description. He didn’t provide the address when asked by prosecutors.
“I looked at almost every street and avenue in Wahpeton,” before finding a house that was “almost straight-on, description-wise,” Wawers said.
Prosecutors contend that given the timeline established by witnesses and surveillance video, there wouldn’t have been time to drop the truck and trailer off in Wahpeton.
Earlier, the prosecution rested its case after taking testimony from its last four witnesses. The mother of Nakvinda’s, Edith Wade, was one of those witnesses.
She called Nakvinda a “very good son” who told her he was doing some work in Louisiana when he left town the weekend before the killing, which occurred on a Monday.
For the full story, read The Forum on Wednesday.