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Uncle gets custody of murdered Fargo dentist's 3-year-old daughter

Roy Gattuso speaks Tuesday about how happy he is after gaining temporary custody of his brother's daughter, Kennedy. David Samson / The Forum

Kennedy Gattuso has a new home, at least for the time being.

The 3-year-old daughter of Fargo's Philip Gattuso was orphaned Oct. 26 when her father was killed in a fatal hammer beating that police say was a murder-for-hire arranged by her maternal grandfather.

Kennedy's aunt - Regan Williams, sister of the girl's dead mother and granddaughter of the man accused of arranging for her father to be killed - has had temporary custody of Kennedy since Philip Gattuso died.

In a closed juvenile court hearing Tuesday in Cass County District Court, that arrangement ended when temporary guardianship of Kennedy was given to Roy Gattuso, Philip's brother.

"Our entire family is just relieved and overwhelmed with joy. I can't express the emotion that we have right now," said Roy Gattuso after he and his wife, Ioana, took custody of Kennedy after the hearing.

A court hearing Monday in Oklahoma City gave a North Dakota judge the authority to determine who would serve as Kennedy's guardian until permanent custody can be decided.

Williams was ordered to attend the hearing in Fargo and to bring Kennedy, who stayed in the Cass County Courthouse until the hearing held in a courthouse annex nearby was finished.

"She came to us with open arms smiling from ear to ear - just a wonderful thing," Roy Gattuso said of reuniting with his 3-year-old niece.

Attempts to talk to Williams after the hearing were not successful.

Michael Gjesdahl of Fargo, the attorney representing Williams in North Dakota, said it would be inappropriate for him or other parties to the custody case to comment on the matter because it is confidential.

Chris Batson, the lawyer who represented Williams in Oklahoma, has said that the 40-year-old sister to Kennedy's mother Valerie - who died March 30 after a long battle with complications from heart surgery - acted as Kennedy's mother for 20 of the last 26 months and should retain custody.

When Williams had temporary custody of Kennedy, the Gattuso family said it was worried because of the criminal charges against Gene Kirkpatrick, the father of Williams and Valerie Gattuso.

Kirkpatrick is charged in Cass County District Court with conspiracy to commit murder, accused of paying $3,000 to his handyman, Michael Nakvinda, to have Gattuso killed. Nakvinda also faces a murder charge.

Batson said Williams, who lives about a half-mile from her father outside of Jones, Okla., passed a lie detector test showing she wasn't involved with the alleged plot to kill Gattuso.

As long as Williams isn't linked to the alleged murder, visitations with Kennedy can be arranged, Roy Gattuso said.

The Gattuso family didn't see Kennedy after she was taken back to Oklahoma until the hearing on Monday. She wasn't allowed to attend her father's funeral.

Roy Gattuso wouldn't go into detail about the interaction with Williams at the hearing Tuesday, but he did say, "I can tell you it was not pleasant."

Permanent guardianship has yet to be decided. The next hearing in the case has not yet been set.

The Gattusos plan to take the 3-year-old back to their home in Gretna, La., on Thursday. They're looking forward to showing Kennedy her new room and to letting her see Marie Gattuso, her grandmother.

"My wife and my daughter nonstop are entertaining her," Gattuso said. "Actually, I think I'll reverse it. Kennedy has actually been entertaining them."