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Published November 29, 2010, 05:17 PM

Trial to Begin in Fargo Murder-For-Hire Scheme

Lawyers are scheduled Tuesday to begin the process of finding jurors to hear the case of an Oklahoma man accused of killing a North Dakota man in exchange for $3,000 from the victim's former father-in-law.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Lawyers are scheduled Tuesday to begin the process of finding jurors to hear the case of an Oklahoma man accused of killing a North Dakota man in exchange for $3,000 from the victim's former father-in-law.

Michael Nakvinda of Oklahoma City has pleaded not guilty in state court to charges of intentional homicide, robbery, burglary and theft. Authorities say Nakvinda beat Philip Gattuso to death last year.

Nakvinda's attorney, Steven Mottinger, has said in court documents that it might be difficult for his client to receive a fair trial in Cass County, and said he might ask for the trial to be moved depending on the progress of jury selection.

"The pretrial publicity in this case has been almost continuous since the date of the alleged crime," Mottinger said in court documents.

"The coverage has included details of the alleged crimes, evidence which may or may not be admissible or even relevant to the defendant," the defense attorney said.

Mottinger and Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick declined to talk about the case.

Bruce Quick, a prominent Fargo attorney and former prosecutor, said he doesn't believe jury selection will be a problem.

"It's the most populated county," Quick said. "And I discovered a couple of years ago in trying a relatively high-profile case how few people really read the newspaper nowadays or pay attention."

Prosecutors allege Gene Kirkpatrick, the father of Gattuso's late wife, paid Nakvinda to kill Gattuso because Kirkpatrick did not agree with the way his granddaughter was being raised. Gattuso's wife, Valerie, died in March 2009 after an extended illness.

Kirkpatrick, of Jones, Okla., faces a murder conspiracy charge and is scheduled for trial in February.

It's unknown whether Kirkpatrick will testify at Nakvinda's trial. A judge in August approved a request by prosecutors to record an interview with Kirkpatrick, who reportedly told the county attorneys he would not invoke his rights against self-incrimination.

"There's a constitutional issue there," Quick said.

Court documents accuse Nakvinda of killing Gattuso on Oct. 26, 2009, with a "hammer or other dangerous weapon," while trying to steal a Porsche convertible and electronic equipment from Gattuso's Fargo condominium.

Gattuso's body was found in his home after he failed to pick up his 3-year-old daughter from day care.

"The murder-for-hire aspect is very unusual," Quick said. "I can't think of any in the 30-plus years I've been around doing this. Usually the motive tends to be anger."

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