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Oklahoma man gets life without parole for hiring handyman to kill son-in-law Fargo dentist

Gene Kirkpatrick

FARGO - An Oklahoma man convicted in July of conspiring in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso, received life without parole during a sentencing hearing this morning.

The hearing for Gene Kirkpatrick started at 9 a.m. and the judge handed down the sentence just before 10:30.

Kirkpatrick's wife and daughter testified in his support, and Judge Steven Marquart said he also received more than 40 letters from Kirkpatrick's family and friends attesting to his good character. However, Marquart said he, like the jury that convicted Kirkpatrick, wasn't swayed by the testimony.

"Your friends and your family do not know the dark side of you," he said.

Kirkpatrick swallowed and bowed his head but showed no emotion after Marquart pronounced the life sentence. Kirkpatrick turned around and nodded to his wife and daughter sitting behind him before he was escorted out of the courtroom without speaking.

Kirkpatrick's wife, Sharon, told reporters after the sentencing that her husband was innocent and that the Gattuso family had lied throughout the case.

"Philip was not a sterling angel. If there was ever a prince of darkness, that man was," she said.

Gattuso's brother, Roy, said the family was pleased with the maximum sentence.

"We're elated that the judge saw through and saw the truth," he said.

He said the last couple of years "have been a total nightmare" for Gattuso family members as they dealt with Philip's death and fought the Kirkpatricks for custody of Philip's daughter, Kennedy, now 5 years old and in the custody of Roy Gattuso and his daughter in Louisiana.

Jurors found Kirkpatrick guilty July 28 on charges of conspiring to commit murder and burglary linked to the fatal hammer beating of Gattuso on Oct. 26, 2009.

Kirkpatrick told police in the days after the murder he had paid his handyman, Michael Nakvinda, $3,000 for expenses related to the killing and had recorded a video of the Gattuso home to give to Nakvinda.

Kirkpatrick told police he was unsettled by Gattuso's parenting skills and upset by how he became distant from Valerie Gattuso - the dentist's wife and daughter of Kirkpatrick - during her 19-month battle to recover from a botched surgery on a valve in her heart.

Valerie's death in 2009 left Philip Gattuso with custody of Kennedy - a daughter the Kirkpatricks said Valerie wanted them to raise.

Kirkpatrick spoke briefly during the sentencing, saying that as a parent who has lost a child he is "deeply sorry" for the Gattuso family's pain and suffering.

"I am grieved that Kennedy, who we love more than anything, is an orphan," he said, adding he never intended that to happen.

Nakvinda is serving a life term in prison without any chance for parole after a jury convicted him of murder and other charges in December. He is appealing his conviction.