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Published December 09, 2010, 07:30 PM

Jury Breaks For Day in Fargo Murder Trial

Jurors began their deliberations Thursday in the trial of an Oklahoma City handyman accused of beating a Fargo dentist to death with a hammer, after attorneys spent the morning clashing over whether the mostly circumstantial evidence presented was enough to secure a conviction.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Jurors began their deliberations Thursday in the trial of an Oklahoma City handyman accused of beating a Fargo dentist to death with a hammer, after attorneys spent the morning clashing over whether the mostly circumstantial evidence presented was enough to secure a conviction.

Michael Nakvinda, 42, is charged with four counts, including intentional homicide, in the October 2009 death of Philip Gattuso. Prosecutors allege Gattuso's former father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick, hired Nakvinda for $3,000 to kill Gattuso. Nakvinda claims he was framed by Kirkpatrick.

The jury broke for the day at around 4:30 p.m. without a verdict after deliberating for around four hours. It was to reconvene Friday morning.

Before the jury got the cas, Nakvinda's lawyer Steven Mottinger, argued for an acquittal based on a lack of DNA evidence or eyewitnesses placing his client at the crime scene on the day Gattuso was killed.

"That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the state's case. They can't put him in Fargo," Mottinger told jurors during closing arguments. "That fundamental flaw cannot be resolved."

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said in his closing that there's "ample evidence" to convict Nakvinda, and showed jurors a box that labeled "ANTI C.S.I. KIT," in reference to the popular TV show where investigators routinely solve crimes from evidence at the scene. The box contained a baseball cap, gloves and bleach.

"With that," Burdick said, "you can walk out, and very likely leave nothing behind."

Investigators maintain that Nakvinda killed Gattuso and stole his Porsche, among other items. Video surveillance near Gattuso's house show Nakvinda's pickup truck and a rented trailer, but the first time Nakvinda can be identified is later that day at a rest stop in South Dakota near the North Dakota border. Nakvinda claims he went to North Dakota to pick up a Porsche that Kirkpatrick bought on the Internet, but he only made it as far as Wahpeton, about 50 miles south of Fargo.

Burdick picked away at Nakvinda's story that someone named Robbie picked up Gattuso's Porsche in Fargo with Nakvinda's truck.

"Does it make any sense that he can't figure out who Robbie is?" Burdick asked.

"Why Wahpeton? Because it's not Fargo," the prosecutor added.

Kirkpatrick, who's facing a murder conspiracy charge at a March trial, said in his initial interview with police that he and Nakvinda talked on several occasions about what it would take to kill Gattuso. Kirkpatrick told detectives he gave Nakvinda $3,000 for expenses before Gattuso was killed.

"Who would commit what amounts to a contract killing for $3,000?" Mottinger asked. "It's ludicrous."

Prosecutors allege Kirkpatrick wanted Gattuso killed because he didn't want Gattuso raising his granddaughter, Kennedy. Valerie Gattuso, Philip's wife and Kirkpatrick's daughter, died in March 2009 after an extended illness. Kirkpatrick also told police he was unhappy with the way Philip handled his daughter's final days.

Mottinger suggested that Deborah Baker, a friend of the Kirkpatrick family who testified that Nakvinda told her he would use a hammer if he was to kill Gattuso, was swayed by Kirkpatrick.

"Gene Kirkpatrick told us he didn't have the guts to do it himself. Those are his own words. But he knew he needed to get it done," Mottinger said. "But he also said he was no good to Kennedy in prison. So what did he do? He hired someone else to do his dirty work and he set Mike Nakvinda up to take the fall."

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