WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 21, 2011, 01:12 PM

Lawyers give opening statements in ND murder trial

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Lawyers in the trial of an Oklahoma man charged in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme in North Dakota agreed Thursday that the case can be boiled down to two hours, 47 minutes and 57 seconds.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Lawyers in the trial of an Oklahoma man charged in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme in North Dakota agreed Thursday that the case can be boiled down to two hours, 47 minutes and 57 seconds.

That's how long Gene Kirkpatrick talked to police investigators in October 2009 about the fatal beating of his former son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso. Prosecutors say Kirkpatrick admitted to hiring a hit man. Defense attorneys say Kirkpatrick told police he never gave the order.

"This is the case of how an otherwise good man, Gene Kirkpatrick, because of his love for his grandchild, Kennedy, plotted with his handyman, Mike Nakvinda, to kill Dr. Philip Gattuso," Cass County prosecutor Mark Boening said in his opening statement.

Defense attorney Mack Martin of Oklahoma City countered that prosecutors "don't have the evidence that there was ever an agreement."

Prosecutors believe Kirkpatrick, 64, of Jones, Okla., paid Nakvinda $3,000 for the killing because Kirkpatrick did not want Gattuso raising his granddaughter, Kennedy. Gattuso was married to Kirkpatrick's daughter, Valerie, who died in March 2009 after an extended illness.

Five-year-old Kennedy is now in the custody of Gattuso's brother.

Nakvinda was convicted in December of beating Gattuso to death with a hammer and stealing his Porsche Boxster sports car and other items from his Fargo townhouse. He is serving a life prison sentence.

Martin said Nakvinda acted alone.

"We got a guy going maverick, a guy going rogue," the defense attorney said.

The nearly three-hour interview with Kirkpatrick was held in Oklahoma and led by Fargo police investigator Paul Lies, pronounced "lease." Martin made a point of telling jurors the detective's name is spelled "L-i-e-s" and called him a "trained professional liar."

Martin held up the transcript of the interview and claimed Kirkpatrick said "over 20 times" that he and Nakvinda never had a formal agreement.

"And they egg him on," Martin said of investigators. "They say things to try to get him to talk more. Gene didn't have to talk to them. He agreed to talk to them."

Boening, the prosecutor, said Lies reached "into his bag of U.S. Supreme Court-approved law enforcement tricks" to get Kirkpatrick to admit to the conspiracy.

According to prosecutors and defense lawyers, Lies told Kirkpatrick that Nakvinda had implicated him in the scheme, when in fact Nakvinda refused to talk to police.

"I've heard it characterized as a very dangerous technique that can blow up badly," Boening said. "Once the other guy realizes you're lying to him, that is not good, but that is what Detective Lies does."

Martin said the Kirkpatrick family — Gene, his wife Sharon and daughters Valerie and Regan — was "as close-knit personally as they were close-knit spiritually." He said Gene Kirkpatrick did not want his daughters exposed to television when they were growing up, so he took their TV set to the dump and "shot it."

Martin said the family went through an excruciating 20-month period when Valerie went through 177 blood transfusions and several amputations before she died. Distraught over his daughter's death, upset at what he believed to be a lack of support from Gattuso and fearful of losing Kennedy, Gene Kirkpatrick talked to "anyone who would listen," Martin said.

"Gene ranted and vented to Nakvinda," the lawyer said, adding that Kirkpatrick was not aware of Nakvinda's criminal past, which included armed robbery and kidnapping convictions.

Boening told the 12-member jury to consider whether they believe Kirkpatrick's statement to police was "voluntary or involuntary." Kirkpatrick told police during the interview that he didn't think he was entrapped and said officers handled the situation in a "manly, respectful, honorable way."

The trial is expected to last at least 10 days.