Jury Sees Gruesome Photos from Fargo Hammer-murderJurors in the trial of a man accused bludgeoning a Fargo dentist to death with a hammer saw photographs of the blood-splattered crime scene Wednesday and heard a recording of a police interview with the victim's father-in-law, who is charged with setting up the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.
By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Jurors in the trial of a man accused bludgeoning a Fargo dentist to death with a hammer saw photographs of the blood-splattered crime scene Wednesday and heard a recording of a police interview with the victim's father-in-law, who is charged with setting up the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.
North Dakota prosecutors called their first witnesses Wednesday in the trial of Michael Nakvinda, 42, of Oklahoma City, who is accused of killing Philip Gattuso in October 2009. Police allege Gattuso's father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick, paid Nakvinda $3,000 for the murder because Kirkpatrick didn't want Gattuso raising his granddaughter.
Nakvinda claims he was framed by Kirkpatrick and wasn't in Fargo when Gattuso was murdered. Nakvinda has pleaded not guilty in state court to charges of intentional homicide, robbery, burglary and theft.
The jury on Wednesday heard Kirkpatrick tell investigators that he and Nakvinda talked about what it would take to kill Gattuso, but Kirkpatrick said he never told Nakvinda to do it. Kirkpatrick said the discussion "wasn't much more than guy talk" and insisted he never paid Nakvinda.
"I think he did it as a friend," Kirkpatrick told police.
Gattuso had been married to Kirkpatrick's daughter, Valerie, who died in March 2009 after an extended illness. Kirkpatrick, who's facing a murder conspiracy charge, criticized Gattuso to police as being "weird" and "weak." Kirkpatrick said he was unhappy with the way Gattuso handled his daughter's medical treatments and believed Gattuso did a poor job of raising two sons from a previous marriage.
"You know, if Philip ended up dead I wouldn't care. You probably picked that up," Kirkpatrick said.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors used photographs and video to lead jurors through Gattuso's ransacked south Fargo townhome, where his body was found in a pool of blood in the master bedroom. A blood-spatter pattern in the shape of a hammer was found next to his head, police said.
Fargo police investigator Paul Lies testified that Gattuso appeared to put up a struggle before he was overpowered. Lies pointed out blood spots on the floors and walls, a broken closet door, shattered mirror and lamp on the floor.
Referring to a photo of Gattuso's body, Lies said, "It appeared he had been bludgeoned in the back of the head."
Earlier that day, Gattuso had dropped off his daughter, Kennedy, at daycare, but failed to pick her up in the evening. Daycare workers called a friend, Julie Willert, who alerted one of Gattuso's neighbors, Dick Brammell. At one point Brammell used a ladder to scale a fence and check out Gattuso's property, but said he left when he noticed that Gattuso's Porsche Boxter was not in the garage.
Brammell and Willert later returned and entered the house, which Brammell initially described as a "pig sty," Willert said. Willert spotted Gattuso's body in the bedroom.
"I stopped and saw the blood and I knew I couldn't go any farther," Willert said, her voice cracking.
The Porsche eventually was found in an Oklahoma City storage unit rented by Nakvinda. A hammer with Gattuso's blood and hair on it was found inside the car, police said.
Investigators did not find any of Nakvinda's DNA or fingerprints inside Gattuso's house.
Willert told prosecutors her family was close to the Gattusos. While Valerie was hospitalized in Minneapolis, Willert testified that Kirkpatrick told her "out of the blue" he wasn't happy with the way Philip raised his two boys and didn't want him to have custody of Kennedy.
"I just thought it would be strange he would be telling me this when he didn't know me," Willert said.
Willert said Philip Gattuso told her that his in-laws hated him and were "badgering" him to give up Kennedy. Willert said she thought the Kirkpatricks would try to kidnap Kennedy.
"Philip looked so defeated," Willert said, fighting back tears. "I thought that from that point on my loyalties were with Philip because he had nobody."
Nakvinda's attorney, Steven Mottinger, said in his opening statement that Kirkpatrick hatched a scheme to set up his client as revenge against Gattuso. Mottinger said he intends to call Nakvinda to the stand.
Kennedy is now living with Philip's brother, Roy Gattuso.