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Published December 06, 2010, 05:32 PM

UPDATE: Slain dentist's former father-in-law denies telling handyman to carry out murder

In two hours of testimony this afternoon, Philip Gattuso’s former father-in-law denied both ordering the death of the Fargo dentist and framing the man he’s accused of hiring as a hitman, Michael Nakvinda.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

In two hours of testimony this afternoon, Philip Gattuso’s former father-in-law denied both ordering the death of the Fargo dentist and framing the man he’s accused of hiring as a hitman, Michael Nakvinda.

The father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick, was testifying in the Nakvinda’s trial on charges of murder, theft, burglary and robbery. He’s also charged with conspiracy to commit murder but is set for a March trial in Cass County District Court.

Kirkpatrick admitted he discussed with Nakvinda having his dead daughter’s husband killed so his family could get custody of the couple’s 3-year-old girl, but he swore he didn’t tell Nakvinda – a contractor who had done work at his home – to go ahead with the plot.

“I know what it sounds like, but we were just talking,” he said.

His testimony came as the second week of the trial began. Last week, the jury heard a 2½-hour statement Kirkpatrick gave to police five days after the killing.

In the interview, he said he gave Nakvinda $3,000 and knew Gattuso would be killed a week before he was beaten to death with a hammer. He told police the future welfare of the child was more valuable than Gattuso’s life.

Kirkpatrick said today he was tired and stressed in that interview, and pointed to his repeated denials that he had reached an agreement with Nakvinda on a murder-for-hire.

“They were putting words in my mouth,” he said of the investigators, who falsely told him Nakvinda had implicated him.

Kirkpatrick also denied the defense’s theory that he is framing Nakvinda, who is claiming he’s never been to Fargo. The Porsche stolen from Gattuso’s home was found in a storage space rented by Nakvinda. A hammer with Gattuso’s blood and hair was found in the car, as well as other items taken from his home.

Kirkpatrick had told him to come to Wahpeton, N.D., to pick up a Porsche he’d purchased on eBay, Nakvinda is alleging.

“That’s all news to me,” Kirkpatrick said.

Prosecutors also called to the stand the witness who delayed the trial’s original August start date: Deborah Baker, a family friend of the Kirkpatricks who also hired Nakvinda to do work around her home.

Baker said that in early October, weeks before the death of the dentist, Nakvinda told her that he could take care of Kirkpatrick’s trouble with Gattuso. She testified that he told her he would use a hammer.

“At the time, I thought he was putting me on,” Baker said.

This morning, Gattuso’s brother, Roy Gattuso, testified Philip was concerned about Kirkpatrick before his wife, the younger of Kirkpatrick’s daughters, died in March 2009. Gene Kirkpatrick told Gattuso he’d kill him if he didn’t raise his girl in Oklahoma, Roy Gattuso recalled his brother telling him.

Kirkpatrick denied that, saying he’d have known he would never see his granddaughter again if he said something like that.

After finding out that his brother was killed, Gattuso said he didn’t suspect that Kirkpatrick was involved, even though “everybody else in my family did.”

Roy Gattuso’s family is raising Kennedy Gattuso, his brother’s orphaned daughter, after a custody case with Regan Williams – the sister of Gattuso’s late wife, Valerie – was dropped by Williams this summer.

He said Williams dropped the case after she and her parents were deposed for the custody trial. In those depositions, she admitted she sent an e-mail to her attorney asking how many years she would have to serve if she “knocked him off,” referring to Gattuso, Roy Gattuso testified today.

Kirkpatrick testified that his daughter’s remark was meant to be a joke, one he said was in “poor taste.”

Read The Forum on Tuesday for the full story.

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