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Dave Roepke, Published January 27 2011

Judge rules man voluntarily gave murder confession in Fargo dentist's death

An alleged confession by Gene Kirkpatrick, the man accused of hiring a hitman to kill his former son-in-law, was voluntary and is admissible at trial, a Cass County judge ruled today.

Kirkpatrick is scheduled to stand trial starting July 19 on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

He’s accused of paying his handyman, Michael Nakvinda, $3,000 for expenses with the promise of $10,000 more to kill Philip Gattuso, a Fargo dentist.

Nakvinda was convicted of murder, robbery, theft and burglary in a December jury trial and is set to be sentenced on Friday.

Five days after Gattuso was beaten to death with a hammer on Oct. 26, 2009, a Fargo police detective and an Oklahoma state crime investigator interviewed Kirkpatrick in Jones, Okla.

In that interview, which jurors heard in Nakvinda’s trial, Kirkpatrick said he considered the life of his granddaughter – Gattuso’s 3-year-old daughter – more valuable than Gattuso’s. His family wanted custody of the girl, he said.

Though he maintained he didn’t give Nakvinda a “green light” to go ahead with the murder-for-hire, Kirkpatrick admitted he paid his handyman $3,000 and he videotaped Gattuso’s home for Nakvinda.

Kirkpatrick’s attorneys argued in earlier briefs and a hearing in Cass County District Court today that those statements weren’t voluntary for a variety of reasons – including a lack of sleep and food, his little experience with police, his grief over his daughter’s death eight months prior and the “psychological pressure” applied by police.

Police told Kirkpatrick at the time that Nakvinda had implicated him, which was not true.

Judge Steven Marquart said neither Kirkpatrick’s mindset nor the manner in which the interview was conducted deprived him of his free will to talk to cops.

Marquart didn’t rule on a second motion made by Kirkpatrick asking that the trial be moved out of Fargo. That motion will be considered closer to the date of the trial, which had been scheduled until this week to start on Feb. 28.

For the full story, read The Forum on Friday.