Dave Roepke, Published December 08 2010
UPDATED: Murder suspect says 'I was paid to transport a car and that's all I did'UPDATED 4:53 p.m.
Four hours of testimony from the accused wrapped up the submission of evidence today in the murder trial for Michael Nakvinda.
Jurors deciding the fate of Nakvinda, who’s been charged with beating Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso to death with a hammer and stealing his Porsche, will hear closing arguments on Thursday morning.
The testimony Nakvinda gave countered statements of several prior witnesses, including the other man charged in connection with Gattuso’s death – the former father-in-law of the dentist, Gene Kirkpatrick.
Nakvinda denied having any discussions with Gene Kirkpatrick about killing Gattuso, saying, “Nah, I’d remember that.” He said they didn’t talk about those sorts of personal matters.
“I just didn’t get too far into detail,” he said. “I call it sissy talk.”
Kirkpatrick, who’d hired Nakvinda as a handyman for years, is accused of paying him to kill Gattuso to get custody of his 3-year-old daughter after the girl’s mother – Kirkpatrick’s daughter – had died seven months before the killing.
On Monday, Kirkpatrick testified he’d talked with Nakvinda about a murder-for-hire, but he says they never had an agreement.
Kirkpatrick is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and is scheduled to stand trial next spring.
Nakvinda claims he’s being framed by Kirkpatrick and says he picked up the stolen Porsche after spending the night of Oct. 25 in Wahpeton, N.D. He said he was told by Kirkpatrick to contact a man over citizens band radio, and when he did, he arranged to follow a truck from Interstate 29 to a Wahpeton residence.
The next morning when he woke up, the truck and trailer were already loaded with the car he’d been told he was to pick up, he said.
Nakvinda couldn’t give a detailed description of the man who he spoke with in Wahpeton or recall the man’s name – other than in might have been Robbie.
“I was paid to transport a car and that’s all I did,” he said.
Nakvinda also denies that weeks before the killing on Oct. 26, 2009, he told another former employer, Deborah Baker, that if he were to kill Gattuso, he would use a hammer. He said he tried not to cuss in front of Baker, so he surely wouldn’t have brought up murdering anyone.
“That’s what she said, but that’s not what I said,” he said.
A hammer with Gattuso’s blood and hair on it was found inside his stolen Porsche in an Oklahoma City storage unit Nakvinda admits he had rented, and a medical examiner testified the dentist’s head injuries were consistent with blows from a hammer.
No physical evidence was found at Gattuso’s home to link Nakvinda to the crime scene, and no witnesses can identify having seen Nakvinda in Fargo.
Ryan Younggren, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, drilled Nakvinda on the details of his story in cross examination, asking him why police weren‘t able to find a number of items he’d have no reason to dispose of if his trip to North Dakota happened the way he says it did.
Those items include:
- The keys to the Porsche
- The car’s license plates
- The receipts from his trip
- The Google maps printout he said Kirkpatrick provided him
- Records of jobs he did for Kirkpatrick, as he kept detailed work records
- The clothes he was wearing when he arrived at the South Dakota rest stop
Nakvinda was also asked him to explain why he and Kirkpatrick had 27 phone conversations in the two months prior to the murder. He had estimated they likely had five phone calls in that time period.
Another issue raised by prosecutors is the time it would take to get from Fargo to Wahpeton to a rest stop just south of the South Dakota border along Interstate 29. Surveillance video time stamps show 70 minutes passed from when a truck and trailer were seen leaving The Bowler in south Fargo to when they pulled into the rest stop.
Yet witnesses for the defense and the state have said it would take at least 15 minutes longer that that if the trip included a stop in Wahpeton – excluding how long it would take to exchange drivers.
For the full story, read The Forum on Thursday.