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Court sets custody hearing for murdered Fargo man's daughter

Philip Gattuso plays with his daughter, Kennedy. Special to The Forum

A hearing has been set in the custody battle in-laws of Philip Gattuso are waging over the slain dentist's orphaned 3-year-old girl.

Roy Gattuso, brother of the Fargo dentist, said a court hearing in Oklahoma has been tentatively set for Nov. 12. The Gattusos want North Dakota authorities to take protective custody of the girl, who is now in the care of a maternal aunt.

The custody arrangement worries the Gattuso family because the girl is with the daughter of a man accused of having the dentist killed.

"It's as sick as sick can get," Roy Gattuso said. "I want to see that my brother resting in peace knows that his daughter is safe."

Police think Gattuso was beaten to death with a hammer in a murder paid for by his father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick of Jones, Okla.

The 63-year-old is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and his handyman, Michael Nakvinda -- who allegedly received $3,000 for the Oct. 26 slaying -- has been charged with murder.

Oklahoma courts have given Kirkpatrick's daughter, Regan Williams, emergency custody of Kennedy Gattuso. Her mother and Philip's wife, Valerie, died in March after an 18-month fight to recover from complications of heart surgery.

Kennedy Gattuso wasn't able to attend her father's funeral, held Wednesday in his native state, Louisiana.

Roy Gattuso, of Gretna, La., said his brother's death was the result of his in-laws' selfishness and obsession. Gene Kirkpatrick pressured Philip Gattuso to promise that if Valerie died, he'd give them full custody of Kennedy, Roy Gattuso said.

Refusing rapidly worsened the relationship, and Gene Kirkpatrick threatened to kill the dentist, Roy Gattuso said.

"My brother was a very active, loving father and family man," Gattuso said. "Unfortunately, the Kirkpatricks were just very, very selfish individuals who thought that if they had custody, it would substitute for the daughter they lost."

Phone calls to Williams' home were not returned Wednesday, and a man who answered the door at the two-story brick home in the 12600 block of North Douglas Boulevard said she was not at home. The home is about a half-mile from Gene Kirkpatrick's, about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

Rebecca Ann Harvey, 60, of Oklahoma City said she is a family friend of the Kirkpatricks who has been horrified by the headlines.

Her son was Regan Williams' first husband. She never would have guessed her son's one-time father-in-law would be capable of what he's been accused.

Since Kirkpatrick was arrested on Monday, Harvey said she has e-mailed his wife, Sharon, who told her, "Don't believe what you're hearing."

Harvey said that while Valerie Gattuso stayed in Oklahoma in the months before she died, Williams took over much of the mothering of Kennedy.

At Wednesday's funeral, family and friends in and around the New Orleans area grieved the loss of Gattuso, and others he met in Oklahoma and the Fargo area offered sympathy to the family through an online obituary guestbook.

A couple of those paying respects included a Moorhead woman who said she was dating Gattuso, and a doctor in Tulsa who said she met him online.

Dr. Debbie Gladd of Tulsa said in her posting that she had recently met Gattuso through, and the two had been exchanging e-mail and talking on the phone frequently before his death.

"We were so looking forward to finally meeting over the Thanksgiving holiday when he and Kennedy planned to travel to Oklahoma," Gladd wrote.

Amber Meikle of Moorhead wrote that she and Gattuso were dating, and that she loved and missed him and his little girl.

"He was a gentleman and absolutely loved Kennedy," Meikle wrote in the online guestbook. "He took Kennedy to story time and IHOP on Saturdays and invited us along."

The murder scenario

FARGO -- He was waiting.

The morning that Philip Gattuso was killed by multiple blows to the head with a hammer, an hour before the 49-year-old dropped his daughter off at day care, a truck and a trailer police believe were driven by the man accused of murdering him arrived at The Bowler.

From the south Fargo bowling alley a block south of Gattuso's condominium, the truck's driver was caught on video walking across 26th Avenue South toward an A&W Restaurant. A&W security video then showed a person crossing its parking lot toward a spot where there's a clear view of Gattuso's garage and front door.

Gattuso took his daughter to day care at 8:30 a.m., then missed a teleconference he'd set for 10:30 a.m. At some point in those two hours, police think Gattuso came home and was beaten in the head with a hammer by Michael Allen Nakvinda, a 41-year-old Oklahoma City man with a violent criminal past.

Cass County prosecutors charged Nakvinda on Monday with murder, robbery, burglary and theft, accused of killing the Fargo dentist and stealing his 1999 Porsche Boxster convertible as well as an assortment of consumer electronics - including phones, cameras and two laptop computers.

An arrest warrant issued Saturday at 4:52 a.m. for Nakvinda details when and where the suspect was seen before and after the killing and was included in court records with the charges filed against him.

Using witnesses, security video, photo lineups and the help of Oklahoma police, Fargo police sketched a rough timeline of Oct. 26, the day Gattuso was found dead in his Fargo condo.

It stretches from early morning to about 2 p.m., when security video at a rest stop south of the North Dakota-South Dakota border captures a man driving a trailer that was rented to Nakvinda entering the rest stop with an empty black garage bag and a change of clothing. A red stain was on the left thigh of the man's pants.

Nakvinda was arrested on Saturday morning in Oklahoma City, where he made a court appearance Monday and waived his right to fight extradition. Authorities here now have 10 days to bring him back, which Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said would be done by the Cass County Sheriff's Office.

Police allege in the warrant that Nakvinda had at least two interactions with witnesses on his way out of town toward Oklahoma City, where the Porsche was found Monday in a storage facility.

One was at the rest stop, where Caroll Ray Griffith told police he saw a man driving a dark Chevrolet pickup pulling a UHaul trailer repeatedly checking the tarp covering the car he was hauling.

The man, who Griffith later picked out of a lineup as Nakvinda, told the witness the car was a 1999 Porsche Boxster he'd bought over the Internet for $12,000 and had driven to Canada to pick up. Griffith said the repeated checking of the tarp made him think the man was nervous.

A second man with Griffith, Darwin Lusty, didn't speak to the pickup driver but chose two photos out of lineup, one of which was Nakvinda. Police matched a driver's license photo of Nakvinda with an image of the driver taken from the rest-stop security video.

There was another interaction earlier in the day.

At about 10:52 a.m., security video from The Bowler shows a car that matches the size and shape of Gattuso's driving east on 26th Avenue South before slowing down to pull into a paved parking garage area. Four minutes later, footage from the same camera has the pickup and trailer that were parked at the alley at 7:29 a.m. driving to where the car had just been taken.

A woman looking out the back window of her home, Jamie Viker, saw a dark green pickup hitched to a trailer with a car. She went outside to dump her trash and spoke to a man laying under the trailer, who told her that the car had been bought on eBay.

Viker told police the car was silver with a black cover and had the word "Boxter" on its back end. In a search of vehicles registered in Cass County, Fargo investigators found that Gattuso's was the only silver 1999 Porsche Boxter.

An employee who works at the dental office adjacent to Gattuso's home -- not his own former practice that he recently sold -- said she saw Gattuso's car backing out of his driveway, though she didn't see the driver.

The witness, Deborah Cook, told police she recognized the car because she has seen it many times.

Surveillance tape from The Bowler showed a truck and trailer hauling a car that matches the description of Gattuso's pulling away at about 11:31 a.m.

A similar truck with a trailer carrying a covered car was seen between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. by Tom Frankel as he worked out on a treadmill at MeritCare Southpointe. He told police the truck was heading west on 32nd Avenue South, which connects with Interstate 29.

At the I-29 rest stop in South Dakota, video shows the man identified by the two witnesses there with a trailer bearing the license plate E851796. Investigators from the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations told Fargo detectives working the case that Nakvinda rented a UHaul with those plates from Oct. 23 to Oct. 27.

Nakvinda returned the trailer at 2:53 p.m. on Oct. 27, the same day police say he got new license plates for his 1999 Chevrolet Silverado pickup -- switching from 591 AEY to 658 DGM. The plates weren't due to expire until December.