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Published July 30, 2011, 05:15 PM

Juror on Decision: Kirkpatrick 'Hung Himself' in Police Interview

Juror on decision: Kirkpatrick ‘hung himself on the interview' FARGO – The jury needed to listen to just 10 seconds of the two-hour, 48-minute police interview with Gene Kirkpatrick to convict him Thursday of conspiring to murder his son-in-law, a juror said Friday. By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

By: Dave Roepke, Forum Communications

FARGO – The jury needed to listen to just 10 seconds of the two-hour, 48-minute police interview with Gene Kirkpatrick to convict him Thursday of conspiring to murder his son-in-law, a juror said Friday.

“He pretty much hung himself on the interview,” said Ron Babb, one of six men and six women on the jury that deliberated about four hours before convicting Kirkpatrick, a 64-year-old from Jones, Okla.

Babb said the section the jury reviewed was Kirkpatrick telling police he had met Michael Nakvinda in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Oklahoma City to pay him $3,000 in expenses for the murder-for-hire on Oct. 26, 2009, of Philip Gattuso.

The defense had claimed Nakvinda, convicted of the murder in an earlier trial, went “rogue” after simply discussing a potential plot with a venting and grief-stricken Kirkpatrick and that the $3,000 payment was for other handyman work.

“If it was just expenses for other jobs,” Babb said, “he would have given it to him at his house.”

Babb was the only juror The Forum was able to reach Friday who was willing to comment. A number of messages left for jurors weren’t returned.

The 64-year-old West Fargo retiree said the initial vote in the jury room was 11 for conviction, with one leaning toward acquittal.

Babb said there wasn’t any dispute Nakvinda and Kirkpatrick had reached an agreement as required in a conspiracy case. The lone dissent turned out to be, as Babb recalls, more of a legal misunderstanding.

Most of the conversation revolved around whether Kirkpatrick withdrew from the agreement, a possible legal defense in conspiracy trials. But despite Kirkpatrick’s repeated claims in the police interview that he had never given the go-ahead, to nullify the agreement he would have needed “to talk to somebody, the cops or somebody else,” Babb said.

“Just words don’t cover it. You’ve got to have some action behind it,” he said.

Babb said he didn’t buy the testimony from Debbie Baker, who claimed weeks prior to the murder that Nakvinda told her he could get rid of Gattuso with a hammer slaying and Kirkpatrick would never know,

“I thought it was kind of far-fetched,” he said, saying the weeks after the killing it took before Baker told anyone about the exchange cast doubt on her story.

Babb said the “cocky” manner of defense attorney Mack Martin “kind of bugged most of us,” as did the eight witnesses called to testify that Kirkpatrick was “truthful, honest and law-abiding,” a phrase that Martin repeatedly used.

“They used the same wording for everyone they had. I thought they were coached,” Babb said.

In a WDAY-TV interview immediately after the verdict was handed down on Thursday, jury foreman David Karels said the jury was surprised the defense rested so soon. Martin told jurors in his opening statement that Kirkpatrick was going to testify, but Kirkpatrick did not take the witness stand.

Kirkpatrick, as he was being taken to jail Thursday to await a sentencing hearing not yet scheduled, told a WDAY-TV reporter he was surprised by the verdict. Babb said, “I don’t know why he would be.”

Kirkpatrick faces a potential life term in prison with no chance for parole.

In the Halloween night police interview in 2009, Kirkpatrick told police he was angry at Gattuso for how he reacted during the long illness that killed Gattuso’s wife and Kirkpatrick’s younger daughter, Valerie Gattuso, in March 2009, seven months before the fatal hammer beating.

Kirkpatrick said he was also unsettled by the parenting skills of Gattuso, who after Valerie’s death was raising their 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy. He told police Kennedy’s future welfare was more valuable than Gattuso’s life.

Babb was upset by that reasoning and considered Kirkpatrick a controlling man who “kept everybody under his thumb.” But he expressed sympathies for both families torn apart by the murder, the Gattusos and the Kirkpatricks.

“I wouldn’t want to be in either of their shoes,” he said.

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