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Periodontist murder case: Custody battle moves to North Dakota

Kennedy Gattuso

The aunt caring for the daughter of slain Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso passed a lie detector test "with flying colors" to show she had no involvement in Gattuso's murder, which her father is accused of plotting, her attorney said.

Regan Williams' attorney, Chris Batson, said Monday that her client raised Kennedy for 20 of the past 26 months and should have custody.

However, who will raise the 3-year-old remains in limbo as an Oklahoma judge ruled Monday that North Dakota has jurisdiction to decide.

Gattuso's brother, Roy Gattuso of Gretna, La., and his wife are seeking custody of Kennedy. He and Batson said Williams was ordered to bring Kennedy to North Dakota, where there is a hearing scheduled today in the matter.

The hearing could determine who gets temporary or permanent custody of the girl.

Emergency custody of Kennedy was granted to Williams, who lives in Jones, Okla., near Oklahoma City, shortly after Gattuso was killed Oct. 26 at his south Fargo condo.

Kennedy lived with the Williams family in the Oklahoma City area while Valerie Gattuso battled heart complications there until her death March 30.

Philip Gattuso then took Kennedy to live with him in Fargo, where he had sold his dental practice but continued to work.

"Other than being with her father for six months, this is the only home she's ever known," Batson said, adding that Williams' children are "like siblings to her."

Roy Gattuso has said his brother didn't designate a guardian for Kennedy in his will, and that the Gattuso family is concerned for her safety because her maternal grandfather is charged in the murder of her father.

Williams' father, 63-year-old Gene Kirkpatrick, is charged in Cass County District Court with conspiracy to commit murder.

Prosecutors allege that he hired his handyman, 41-year-old Michael Nakvinda of Oklahoma City, to kill Gattuso because he didn't like how the 49-year-old dentist was raising Kennedy after the death of Valerie Gattuso.

Gattuso had dropped off Kennedy at day care at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 26. Police believe Nakvinda beat Gattuso to death with a hammer at his home later that morning.

Batson said Regan Williams had a good relationship with Philip Gattuso and his children, which consist of Kennedy and two adult sons.

"And she took a polygraph test and passed it with flying colors and had absolutely no knowledge and no involvement in those events," Batson said, referring to the alleged murder-for-hire plot.

"Her heart is just broken for the Gattusos and for Kennedy," she added. "She's a good person. She's doing the right thing."

Batson said she didn't know who administered the polygraph test. Williams declined to comment when reached by phone.

Roy Gattuso said he, his wife and their daughter were allowed to see Kennedy for about 45 minutes Sunday in the lobby of their Oklahoma City hotel.

"She was extremely happy to see us and didn't want to leave," he said Monday afternoon, just before boarding a flight to Fargo. "It was a joy to be with her. Just wish it could have been longer, but hopefully we'll get to spend more time with her soon."

They weren't allowed to talk to Kennedy about her father, he said.

"We were drawing some pictures," he said. "We drew a picture of a house, and I said, 'What would you like to draw next?' And she said, 'My dad.' "