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Published July 21 2013

Kirkpatrick files appeal claiming ineffective counsel

FARGO – An Oklahoma man convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his son-in-law in Fargo in October 2009 has filed an appeal claiming he had ineffective counsel.

Gene Kirkpatrick, 66, filed the request for post-conviction relief on June 24 in Cass County District Court.

Kirkpatrick is serving a life prison term without parole after a jury found him guilty in July 2011 of conspiring to commit the murder of Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso.

Court filings, so far, don’t indicate why Kirkpatrick is claiming ineffective counsel or which of his attorneys he believes were ineffective.

Last week, Judge Steven Marquart granted Kirkpatrick’s application for a court-appointed attorney in the relief case. The attorney, Ryan Thompson, of Devils Lake, N.D., could not be reached for comment Friday.

In his application, Kirkpatrick wrote that all of his finances were spent on his first three attorneys, and that his 65-year-old wife can’t work because of poor health and because she takes care of her ill 88-year-old mother.

Kirkpatrick wrote that he has no funds to afford an attorney and couldn’t afford one in the wrongful death civil lawsuit that was brought by Gattuso’s family on behalf of his daughter, Kennedy Gattuso. Last week, Judge Lisa Fair McEvers awarded $9.65 million in damages against Kirkpatrick in favor of Kennedy, his granddaughter.

Testimony during Kirkpatrick’s murder trial showed he didn’t want Philip Gattuso raising Kennedy after the March 2009 death of Gattuso’s wife, Valerie, who was Kirkpatrick’s daughter.

Kirkpatrick is serving his sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. In his application for a court-appointed attorney, the retired telephone company worker listed $2,900 in total monthly income, including his $1,300-per-month pension, $900-per-month military allotment and his wife’s $700 monthly Social Security payment.

Last October, the North Dakota Supreme Court denied Kirkpatrick’s appeal for a new trial. He had argued that a statement he gave to police six days after Gattuso’s death was involuntary and shouldn’t have been allowed at trial.

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