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Published September 04 2012

Man convicted of plotting murder of Fargo dentist will argue for new trial today at ND Supreme Court

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Supreme Court will hear arguments today in the appeal of an Oklahoma man convicted of plotting the murder of his son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso.

Gene Kirkpatrick, 66, is serving a life sentence without parole for the killing of Gattuso, who was found beaten to death with a hammer in his home on Oct. 26, 2009.

Kirkpatrick wants a new trial. A Cass County jury convicted him in July 2011 of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit burglary.

Prosecutors alleged that Kirkpatrick hired his former handyman, Michael Nakvinda, to carry out the murder because he didn’t want Gattuso raising his 3-year-old granddaughter after Kirkpatrick’s daughter, Valerie Gattuso, died in March 2009.

In his appeal, Kirkpatrick argues that his initial statement to police shortly after Gattuso’s death was involuntary and shouldn’t have been used against him at trial.

He admitted in the police interview that he had paid Nakvinda $3,000 and promised him another $10,000 to kill Gattuso. He told police he was unsettled by Gattuso’s parenting skills and upset by how he became distant from Valerie Gattuso during her 19-month decline toward death.

At trial, Kirkpatrick claimed his conversations with Nakvinda about killing Gattuso weren’t to be taken seriously and that Nakvinda mistook his intentions and decided on his own to kill Gattuso.

Kirkpatrick’s appeal also claims a lack of evidence for the burglary conviction and errors made by Judge Steven Marquart in his jury instructions – including his denial of Kirkpatrick’s request to allow the jury to consider his “extreme emotional disturbance” at the time of the alleged conspiracies.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments at 10 a.m. today and will issue its opinion at a later date.

Nakvinda’s appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court last November. He also is serving a life prison term without parole.

Meanwhile, a jury trial is slated to begin Oct. 30 in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Kirkpatrick last year by Gattuso’s brother, Roy Gattuso, who has custody of Philip Gattuso’s orphaned daughter. The girl, Kennedy Gattuso, also is a plaintiff in the civil lawsuit.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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