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Dave Roepke, Published January 19 2011

Philip Gattuso murder trial: Prosecution resists motion to move trial

There’s no basis for moving an upcoming murder trial away from Fargo or for throwing out a police interview conducted with the defendant, Cass County prosecutors argue in briefs filed Tuesday.

Gene Kirkpatrick, 64, of Jones, Okla., is set to stand trial in Cass County District Court starting Feb. 28 on a charge of conspiring to murder his former son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso – allegedly in order to get custody of Gattuso’s 3-year-old daughter.

Five days after Gattuso was beaten to death Oct. 26, 2009, Kirkpatrick told police he gave a contractor who worked for him $3,000, with a promise of $10,000 more, to kill Gattuso. In a trial last month, the handyman, Michael Nakvinda, was found guilty of the murder.

Kirkpatrick argued in a motion earlier this month that admissions he made had been coerced, echoing testimony he gave in Nakvinda’s trial claiming police put words in his mouth during a stressful time.

Prosecutors say his education, the time and location of the interview and Kirkpatrick’s own statements show he had freely chosen to speak to police.

Kirkpatrick was asked in the police interrogation if he felt he was entrapped. His response was: “You all have totally done your job (in) a very kind and gracious way,” the brief states.

“Mr. Kirkpatrick was only ever bound by his own self-imposed obligations to tell the truth,” reads the brief signed by an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, Ryan Younggren.

Prosecutors also argued attorneys must try to seat a jury before moving a trial due to concerns about the jury pool being prejudiced by media coverage, barring evidence that reports were biased or inflammatory.

Kirkpatrick argued the extensive coverage ensured his inability to get a fair trial, citing more than 100 articles The Forum has run concerning the case.

“The law instructs us to seek fair and impartial jurors, not persons who have never heard of the case,” Younggren wrote.

Judge Steven Marquart is slated to hear arguments on the motions on Jan. 27, the day before Nakvinda’s sentencing hearing.

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