WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 28, 2011, 09:46 PM

Brother of slain dentist reacts to guilty verdict

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - In just 4 short hours a Fargo jury convicted Gene Kirkpatrick of conspiring to kill his son in law Phillip Gattuso. Kirkpatrick paid his handyman to kill Gattuso in order to gain custody of his granddaughter. A trial that was scheduled for 2-3 weeks lasted only 6 days with a murder mastermind behind bars tonight.

Everyone was on edge as the jury came back to the courtroom after just 4 hours of deliberating. Emotion, as these words were read.

Court: "We the jury duly impaneled and sworn in the above and titled action do find the defendant Gene Carl Kirkpatrick guilty of the offense of the charge of conspiracy to commit murder."

The Kirkpatrick's watch as their father, husband and grandfather gets sent to jail. For the Gattuso family also sitting in the court room, Justice is done ending a 2-year emotional roller coaster.

Roy Gattuso – Phillip’s Brother: "When we had said the verdict was coming in I was very very nervous and very scared."

Roy Gattuso, Phillip's brother believed all along that Michael Nakvinda was just the weapon. But Gene was the man who really killed his younger brother.

Gattuso: "We now have some closure. So Kennedy will have some closure in the future as she gets older that's most important to us."

We were the only ones who spoke with Kirkpatrick after the verdict. Who now looks like a humbled man, handcuffed being escorted out of the courthouse.

Reporter: “Gene, what's your reaction to the verdict?”

Gene Kirkpatrick – Found Guilty: “I'm surprised.”

Reporter: “Do you still deny this?”

Kirkpatrick: “Yes."

Kirkpatrick faces life in prison without parole. No sentencing date is set. But for the Gattusos, they can move on with the two men that plotted to kill Phillip behind bars.

Roy Gattuso: "He'll be in a place where he can not harm our family. And Kennedy.

Prosecutors say they never had any hint which way the case would go. The prosecution team based its case on a 3-hour interview Kirkpatrick had with police in 2009. In it, Kirkpatrick admitted to paying convicted Mike Nakvinda 3-thousand dollars, and said he talked about killing Gattuso with Nakvinda, but said it was just "locker room" talk.

Today, prosecutors told the jury love for his granddaughter, hate for Phillip, and fear he would raise Kennedy drove Kirkpatrick to kill.

BIRCH BURDICK - States Attorney: “At the end of your case you really want to feel like you're winning. But I dont ever know. All you know is that you pile up the evidence the best you can and present it in a way that you hope the jury understands.”

No one from the Kirkpatrick family or his lawyer Mack Martin would comment.

Very compelling. That's how jurors in the murder for hire trial describe sitting through the unsettling testimony. The 14 person panel of Kirkpatrick's peers went through weeks of worry, emotional distress, and anguish.

We got this jury list moments after these community members did their civic duty. Tonight, I spoke with half of them. Many are still shaken up over the difficult decision that could send a man to prison for the rest of his life.

The jury of 6 men and 6 women, plus two alternates, sat through the ten day trial. They say evidence showed Kirkpatrick's guilt.

The jury foreman, David Karels (carls), calls Kirkpatrick's statement to police after the murder, the core of the case. He's surprised the defense rested so soon and focused so much on the conspirator's character.

Jurors tell WDAY 6 News, if Kirkpatrick has such high morals, he should have stopped the murder, but did not. Instead he did things to further it, like videotape Gatusso's home and give money, schedules, and an address to the now convicted murderer, Michael nakvinda.

DAVID KARELS - Jury Foreman: “The defense glossed over a lot of what we would consider acts that Gene committed by his own admission and by not focusing on them. It was guilt. We followed the judge's instructions and feel very good about our decision.”

The jury was 11 to 1 when they went into deliberations. The lone not guilty member, hanging onto what an agreement means, whether implicit or explicit. After four hours and following judges order, they reached a unanimous verdict. Jurors are clearly glad the trial is over.