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Charges filed against family friend in kidnapping, murder of 5-year-old

SHOCKING DETAILS: Grandfather videotaped Fargo dentist's home to aid accused murderer, documents say

Gene Kirkpatrick

FARGO - The father-in-law of slain Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso told his handyman, who is accused of Gattuso's murder, that he wanted his son-in-law "gone or dead," according to charges filed today.

Gene Kirkpatrick, 63, of Oklahoma City, was charged in Cass County District Court with conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit burglary.

According to the warrant that allowed Oklahoma police to arrest Kirkpatrick at his home Monday night, Kirkpatrick also told investigators that Michael Nakvinda, who is charged with Gattuso's murder, gave Kirkpatrick a video camera and told him to videotape Gattuso's residence, which he did during a trip in early October.

Kirkpatrick told investigators that he agreed to pay Nakvinda $3,000, with an additional $10,000 to be paid at a later date.

Gattuso's death made an orphan of Kennedy Gattuso, the 3-year-old daughter of the Fargo dentist and his now-deceased wife, Valerie.

Earlier this afternoon, Kirkpatrick told a judge during a court hearing that he would refuse extradition to North Dakota.

The Oklahoma grandfather told Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott he wanted to "stay here and fight extradition."

The judge told Kirkpatrick the next step is an extradition hearing in 30 to 60 days. The judge told Kirkpatrick he will be ordered to North Dakota against his will if North Dakota officials prove he is the man they want.

Bond was denied.

Kirkpatrick was not happy with the way Gattuso was raising his 3-year-old daughter since the death of his wife in March, authorities said. Valerie Gattuso was Kirkpatrick's daughter.

The Oklahoma City Oklahoman newspaper contributed to this article.

The custody battle

Philip Gattuso's family is asking authorities in North Dakota to take custody of the slain Fargo dentist's 3-year-old daughter because they're worried about her staying with an aunt whose father has been charged in Gattuso's death.

Philip's brother, Roy Gattuso, said they are frightened that the girl, Kennedy Gattuso, is still with Regan Williams, sister of Gattuso's late wife, Valerie.

Gene Kirkpatrick, Regan and Valerie's father, was charged Tuesday in Fargo with conspiring to murder Gattuso, hiring a hitman to kill the 49-year-old dentist.

In Oklahoma, Williams is seeking emergency custody of Kennedy, Roy Gattuso said, though he's not been able to obtain court records detailing the petition. The legal move requires arguing that there are special circumstances that warrant it, he said.

"It's a horrible situation," he said. "I cannot believe that Regan's attorney is proceeding in this direction. I can't believe any court would allow this to continue the way it is under the facts that exist."

Williams' attorney, Chris Deason, did not return a phone message Tuesday, and Williams didn't answer her phone, which doesn't allow messages to be left.

Asked if he believes there has been much interaction between Kirkpatrick and Williams, Roy Gattuso said Williams drove here with the Kirkpatricks after the slaying.

Roy Gattuso said officials in Cass County are looking into the custody matter and haven't told him how they will respond.

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said Tuesday he's not aware of any custody proceedings in Cass County concerning Kennedy Gattuso but added that they wouldn't be public if they did take place.

Fargo police have said they think the girl is safe with Williams.

Roy Gattuso said that in a conference call after the killing but before he was in North Dakota, he did not object to Williams taking temporary custody of Kennedy, as the alternative would have been putting her with strangers.

He didn't suspect police to link Kennedy's grandfather to the fatal hammer beating. Police think that Kirkpatrick paid Michael Nakvinda, his handyman, $3,000 to kill Gattuso.

"If I did, I would have been there quicker than you could have blinked. I would have never allowed that child to be anywhere close to any of them," Roy Gattuso said.

The Kirkpatrick family hadn't been pleased with Gattuso's care of his child since Valerie's death in March, which police say Gene Kirkpatrick told a Fargo detective. An arrest warrant for Kirkpatrick filed Tuesday states that he admitted he told Nakvinda he wanted his son-in-law "gone or dead and had felt this way for quite a while."

There is no guardian for Kennedy named in Philip Gattuso's will, his brother said. Roy Gattuso said he will seek permanent custody of Kennedy when a court makes that determination, which family law lawyers said would be the eventual way to settle the custody case.

Jason McLean, a Fargo attorney who specializes in family law, said he would not be surprised to see the state take temporary custody of the orphaned girl.

"Given what's gone on, I think there's probably a vested interest of the state to make sure everybody's on the up and up," he said.

McLean and Deborah E. Fortune, an Oklahoma City family law attorney, both said based on what they know about the case, North Dakota courts would make the call on permanent custody. Law in both states calls for courts in the state where the child has lived for the previous six months to determine custody.

Fortune said figuring out which of two vying family members gets custody of an orphaned child is likely to hinge on which residence is thought to be better for the child, a balancing act that relies heavily on the child's comfort in a home and existing relationships.

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