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Dave Olson, Published October 23 2012

Kirkpatrick denied new trial in Gattuso murder

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an Oklahoma man convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his son-in-law won’t be getting a new trial.

Gene Kirkpatrick is serving a life sentence without a chance for parole for the killing of Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso, who was found beaten to death in his home in October 2009.

Kirkpatrick was convicted by a Cass County jury in July 2011 of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit burglary.

Prosecutors said he hired his former handyman to kill Gattuso because Kirkpatrick didn’t want Gattuso raising his 3-year-old granddaughter following the death of Kirkpatrick’s daughter in March 2009.

Kirkpatrick argued in his appeal that a statement he gave to police six days after Gattuso’s death was involuntary and should not have been used at trial.

In the statement, Kirkpatrick admitted he paid Michael Nakvinda $3,000 and promised him another $10,000 to kill Gattuso.

During his trial, Kirkpatrick said his conversations with Nakvinda weren’t to be taken seriously, and he said Nakvinda decided on his own to kill Gattuso.

The appeal made additional claims, including an assertion that the trial judge’s instructions to jurors contained errors.

On whether the confession was admissible, the Supreme Court said trial courts are in the best position to determine such questions and based on the trial court’s detailed findings, it was not erroneous to admit the confession.

“We conclude Kirkpatrick’s statement to law enforcement was voluntary and properly used against him, the evidence was sufficient to sustain his conspiracy to commit burglary conviction and the trial court did not err in issuing jury instructions. We affirm the criminal judgment,” the unanimous ruling stated.

Nakvinda was convicted of murder and three other charges in a separate trial and is also serving a lifetime prison term without a chance for parole.

Gattuso’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kirkpatrick after the 2011 criminal trial. The lawsuit is still pending.

A trial in the civil case was previously scheduled for Tuesday but has since been delayed. A new trial start date hasn’t been set.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555