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Dave Roepke, Published January 29 2011

Nakvinda gets life, no chance for parole

It was the only sentence the prosecution considered suggesting and the precise result the defense expected: Michael Nakvinda was sent to prison Friday for the rest of his life for murdering Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso 15 months ago.

Nakvinda was ordered to serve a lifetime prison term with no chance for parole in a hearing in Cass County District Court.

In arguing for a life term with no parole, Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick called the murder brutal, senseless, planned, merciless and unprovoked.

“This wasn’t a hasty, rash act in a moment of rage,” Burdick said. “He watched. He waited. And then he acted.”

After the hearing, Burdick said prosecutors gave no consideration to asking for a lesser sentence.

“This is the time you have to pull out that particular arrow,” he said. “We never wavered from that thought.”

Nakvinda’s attorney had argued for a sentence allowing parole at some point, suggesting either 27 years or life with the possibility of parole.

“Circumstances change. Facts change. People change,” defense attorney Steve Mottinger said.

Mottinger said the sentence was exactly what he expected but declined further comment after the hearing.

As he did throughout his trial, Nakvinda showed no apparent emotion upon hearing he was heading behind bars for life.

A Cass County jury last month found Nakvinda guilty of murdering Gattuso. In the trial, prosecutors said he hit the dentist in the head with a hammer at least 10 times the morning of Oct. 26, 2009, leaving the single father to die on his bedroom floor, skull shattered like broken glass as blood pooled under him.

Jurors also found him guilty on robbery, burglary and theft charges after a nine-day trial that ended after Nakvinda took the stand to claim that his co-defendant, Gene Kirkpatrick, was framing him.

Life without parole was the maximum sentence for the murder conviction, and Judge Frank Racek said the “unprovoked acts of extreme cruelty” called for the stiffest sentence. He also gave Nakvinda maximum prison terms on the three other counts – 20 years for robbery, 10 years for burglary and 5 years for theft of property.

During the trial, Nakvinda, 42, Oklahoma City, did not dispute he had hauled Gattuso’s stolen Porsche from North Dakota back to Oklahoma, where it was found in a storage unit he had rented. Nor did he deny a hammer with the dentist’s blood and hair on it and items stolen from his home were inside the convertible he’d stored away.

However, he denied killing Gattuso, saying he had been told by Kirkpatrick to pick up the Porsche. After he spent the night of Oct. 25 in Wahpeton, N.D., he awoke to find his rented trailer already loaded with the car, Nakvinda insisted.

Nakvinda maintained his innocence in brief remarks at his sentencing, saying evidence he’s been unable to review will exonerate him. No witnesses saw him in Fargo, and no forensic evidence linked to him was found at the crime scene.

He plans to file an appeal.

“I can face God right now today and know I’m innocent of these charges 100 percent,” said Nakvinda, who also said the Gattuso family is in his prayers.

A July trial is scheduled for Kirkpatrick, who faces a charge of conspiracy to commit murder – accused of paying Nakvinda $3,000 in expenses and promising him $10,000 more to murder Gattuso, the former son-in-law of Kirkpatrick. He also told police he made a video of Gattuso’s south Fargo condominium and checked the dentist’s schedule at the request of Nakvinda.

In the police interview a Cass County judge ruled Thursday was admissible at Kirkpatrick’s trial, Kirkpatrick said he wanted Gattuso dead after the wife of the dentist and Kirkpatrick’s daughter – Valerie Gattuso – died in March 2009.

Kirkpatrick told cops his family wanted custody of Gattuso’s 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, and the girl’s future was more valuable to him than Gattuso’s life.

The 64-year-old of Jones, Okla., claims he didn’t give Nakvinda, his handyman, a “green light” to go ahead with the murder-for-hire.

In arguing for leniency, Mottinger said no matter if Nakvinda’s story is true, if it weren’t for Kirkpatrick, “we just wouldn’t be here.”

No Gattuso family members were at the hearing on Friday, but Roy Gattuso, his brother, said his family was pleased by the news.

“Of course, we’ll be much more relieved when the other trial is completed,” he said.

Dennis Nakvinda, older brother of Michael, said on Friday he has asked a nonprofit that works on wrongful convictions, The Innocence Project, to take a look at his brother’s case.

“I believe the man that did it is right here in Oklahoma, probably walking the streets,” he said.

Dennis Nakvinda said he has talked to his brother since the trial.

“He says, ‘You know, I’m screwed,’ ” he said. “That’s really about all he said. What do you want him to do? Do cartwheels?”

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