FARGO - The defense for Gene Kirkpatrick, the man standing trial
for allegedly helping plot the murder of Philip Gattuso, will begin today after the state rested its case Tuesday morning.
Detective Paula Ternes, the case agent who headed up the homicide probe she called "massive" in scope, was the last of the prosecution's 18 witnesses to take the stand. She testified Tuesday in large part to what investigators couldn't find.
Kirkpatrick, the father of Gattuso's late wife, is accused of conspiring with Michael Nakvinda, a handyman, in the fatal beating of the Fargo dentist. Kirkpatrick told police he paid $3,000 for expenses and promised $10,000 more and recorded a video of Gattuso's home for Nakvinda. A jury in December convicted Nakvinda of the Oct. 26, 2009, murder.
Ternes told jurors that a video camera was found in Nakvinda's home, but it had no tape in it. The video Kirkpatrick told detectives he shot was never found.
In a search of Kirkpatrick's bank accounts, police also didn't find transactions possibly related to paying Nakvinda, she said.
Ternes said officers checked Fargo-area hotels to see if potential suspects had stayed in the area the night before the murder. A "Ryan Kirkpatrick" was found, which is why jurors heard police asking the 64-year-old defendant whether he had relatives by that name in a recording played in court last week of the Oct. 31, 2009, interview.
The defense claims there was no agreement between Kirkpatrick and Nakvinda, saying the handyman went "rogue" in acting alone.
Though Kirkpatrick took responsibility in the Halloween night interview for the slaying that orphaned his 3-year-old granddaughter, he repeatedly said he believed the discussion of a murder-for-hire with Nakvinda had been only talk.
Kirkpatrick told police in the interview he was upset with how Gattuso reacted over the 1Â½ years his wife, Valerie Gattuso, was dying from complications linked to a botched heart surgery.
He also thought Gattuso wasn't a nurturing parent.
Defense attorney Mack Martin, in cross-examining Ternes Tuesday, recalled Nakvinda trial testimony from both Kirkpatrick and Debbie Baker, a Kirkpatrick friend who says Nakvinda told her in early October he could kill the Fargo dentist with a hammer and Kirkpatrick would never know about it.
Ternes said she wasn't sure if Baker said in the first trial that Nakvinda had said he could murder Gattuso without Kirkpatrick knowing. Martin had a transcript, and showed Baker's earlier testimony did refer to the handyman saying Kirkpatrick would not need to know.
Martin asked Ternes if a murder conspiracy charge would still have been filed against Kirkpatrick if cops had known about the conversation Baker says she'd had with Nakvinda. Ternes said she thinks he would still have been charged.
Jurors were released for the day after Ternes testified. After about three full days of testimony by state witnesses following opening statements last Thursday, the defense will now call their witnesses.
Martin has said Kirkpatrick will take the stand to testify in his own defense. He also said he plans to call the husband of Debbie Baker as well as a number of character witnesses.
On Monday, Martin said the defense case will take one or two days to present, which means the jury could start deliberating later this week.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535