Gattuso murder trial: Kirkpatrick feared son-in-law would ruin his granddaughter's life
Minutes after admitting he had paid his handyman to kill his granddaughter's father, leaving the 3-year-old with no parents, Gene Kirkpatrick gave police his reasoning as an equation.
"I just felt like he was going to ruin her life," he said of Kennedy Gattuso and her father, Philip Gattuso. "I thought her future welfare was more valuable than his life."
Jurors in the trial for the man Kirkpatrick allegedly hired, Michael Nakvinda, on Thursday finished hearing the 2½-hour interview of Kirkpatrick conducted five days after the Fargo dentist was beaten to death with a hammer last fall.
What began as a diatribe about Gattuso - including complaints about his nurturing abilities and how his adult sons were raised - became what Kirkpatrick considered a confession.
"Am I going to jail right away?" he asked toward the end of the interrogation in Jones, Okla., by Fargo police Detective Paul Lies and an agent with Oklahoma's state crime agency.
"It scares me," he said.
"What scares you?" Lies asked Kirkpatrick.
"The consequences," he said.
Kirkpatrick is accused of paying Nakvinda $3,000 to kill Gattuso in order to get custody of the only child Gattuso had with his late wife, Valerie, who died from a long illness seven months before his death.
While Nakvinda is standing trial in Cass County District Court for murder, robbery, burglary and theft, Kirkpatrick's trial for conspiracy to commit murder is set for March.
The retired salesman was arrested two days after the interview. He's out on bail after posting $1 million cash to secure his release in February.
In a rambling statement to police, Kirkpatrick said he gave Nakvinda $3,000 to cover expenses, but he told him to wait for his say-so before doing anything. He also didn't think Nakvinda would be doing the killing, as the ex-convict told him a third party would do it.
His insistence softened as the interview wore on.
"I guess I gave him the green light," he said, later adding, "Everything was his suggestion, but I was right there with him."
He repeatedly told police how awful he was for considering the plot, referring to himself as a murderer, a "horrible person" deserving "nothing but death and hell" for what he did to try to get custody of Kennedy.
"She's going to say, 'My grandfather killed my daddy,' " he said.
Though he had just given the state its most significant evidence against him and was so despondent that police were worried he was suicidal, Kirkpatrick told investigators he was grateful for the "manly, respectable, honorable way" he was questioned. He didn't know he'd falsely been told Nakvinda implicated him.
When asked if he'd felt he was in custody - relevant because he wasn't given the Miranda warning that must preface custodial interrogations - he waved off concerns. He also said he hadn't been entrapped.
"You're all doing your job. You're supposed to do this," he said. "I like you two."
Later in the day, prosecutors took testimony tracing the security videos and eyewitnesses that led from Gattuso's townhome on South University Drive to Oklahoma City.
The dentist's stolen Porsche, a hammer with his blood and hair on it and various electronic devices and other items taken from his home were found in an Oklahoma City storage unit Nakvinda had rented.
State forensic examiner William Massello testified that Gattuso had been beaten in the head at least 10 times but likely many more, as his skull was so heavily fractured he compared it to a "broken glass dropped on the floor." The shape of the wounds indicated the murder weapon was something with a circular impact area, such as a hammer.
Nakvinda claims he's being set up by Kirkpatrick and has never even been to Fargo. His attorney, Steve Mottinger, said he thought he was delivering a car Kirkpatrick bought, and he picked it up in Wahpeton, N.D. Both Kirkpatrick and Nakvinda are expected to testify next week.
A witness who saw a man loading the stolen Porsche onto a U-Haul trailer Nakvinda rented can't identify who it was she saw. Jamie Viker told the jury she did not catch a good glimpse of the man because he was wearing a baseball hat.
"I never really saw his face," said Viker, who was unable to select Nakvinda out of a photo lineup.
Based on his tall, slim body and the fact he was wearing a baseball hat, Viker told police on multiple occasions the man she saw was in his late 20s or early 30s. She also said he had sandy blond hair.
Nakvinda is 42 years old. Asked about his hair color, Viker said, "Nope, he doesn't look blonde to me."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535