Judge awards $9.6 million in wrongful death suit of Fargo dentist
FARGO — A young girl whose father was murdered here by a hitman hired by her grandfather has been awarded $9.65 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by her father's family.
Cass County District Court Judge Lisa Fair McEvers ordered the award Monday against Gene Kirkpatrick for his granddaughter, Kennedy Gattuso, in the lawsuit filed in August 2011.
The suit was filed on Kennedy Gattuso's behalf by her uncle, Roy Gattuso, after a Cass County jury found Kirkpatrick guilty in July 2011 of conspiracy to commit the murder of his son-in-law, Dr. Philip Gattuso.
Gattuso, a widowed dentist with a then-3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, was found bludgeoned to death in October 2009 in his south Fargo home. The hammer was wielded by Kirkpatrick's handyman, Michael Nakvinda.
Nakvinda was convicted of the murder, for which he said he was paid $3,000 by Kirkpatrick to kill Gattuso, with another $10,000 to come.
Gattuso's wife, Valerie, who was Kirkpatrick's daughter, died in March 2009 following a lengthy illness.
Court testimony showed that Kirkpatrick did not want his son-in-law raising his granddaughter.
McEvers' ruling calls for Kirkpatrick to pay more than $4.4 million for economic damages, $5 million for non-economic damages, and $250,000 for other damages.
McEvers wrote in her order that because Kirkpatrick is incarcerated in a South Dakota prison, it is unlikely he will be able to pay any of the non-economic damages.
"If it was $10,000 or $10 million, I can't pay it," said Sharon Kirkpatrick, Gene Kirkpatrick's wife. She said a phone call from The Forum on Wednesday was the first she had heard of the judge's order.
Kirkpatrick said she and her husband spent all of their money on legal fees for his defense. Gene Kirkpatrick wrote in a June 1 letter to the court that he still owed $85,000.
Kirkpatrick added in the letter that he felt the $4 million in economic losses was an overestimation, because before Philip Gattuso died Kirkpatrick understood he was in the process of selling his Fargo dental practice and relocating to Oklahoma to teach and be nearer to his dying wife. During her illness, Valerie Kirkpatrick had moved in with her parents.
Kirkpatrick's daughter, Regan Williams, said McEvers' order was the culmination of what she felt was harassment from Roy Gattuso.
"From the beginning there has not been one ounce of justice for us, zero justice for us, none for Kennedy," she said. She regrets that her family had "taken the high road" when it came to their feelings about Philip Gattuso during the trial.
Roy Gattuso said by phone from Louisiana that he is doing well following the news of the judge's award, but deferred further questions to his son-in-law, Adam Massey. Massey and Roy Gattuso's daughter adopted Kennedy. Massey did not respond to an interview request from The Forum.
Williams, who sought custody of Kennedy after Gattuso's death and was denied, said she and her parents are the subject of a victim restraining order in the state of Louisiana that prohibits them from contacting Kennedy.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541.