Weather Forecast


Jury to deliberate for second day in Nakvinda murder trial

After four hours of deliberation Thursday, the nine women and three men who will decide the fate of Michael Nakvinda hadn't yet reached a verdict.

The jury will continue to review the evidence today in the trial, now stretching into its ninth day, for Nakvinda in Cass County District Court on charges of murder, robbery, theft and burglary. Jurors have more than 300 exhibits and 34 witnesses to consider.

Nakvinda, 42, of Oklahoma City is accused of beating Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso to death with at least 10 blows from a hammer in a murder-for-hire scheme, leaving him to die on his bedroom floor before stealing his Porsche and various items from his home.

In his closing argument, Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said the jury has ample evidence to convict Nakvinda, in part because of the pieces of the state's case he's conceded.

Nakvinda doesn't contest that he was spotted hauling the car away from the area at a South Dakota rest stop the day of the Oct. 26, 2009, killing. He doesn't dispute the stolen car and a hammer with Gattuso's blood and hair on it was found in a storage unit he rented.

"These are things he can't deny," Burdick said.

Nakvinda took the stand Wednesday, countering the testimony of multiple witnesses who implicated him - including a client who testified he told her he'd use a hammer to kill Gattuso weeks before the dentist was bloodily beaten to death with a hammer.

A contractor and handyman, Nakvinda is claiming he's being framed by the man accused of hiring him.

"All these people must be part of it," Burdick said of Nakvinda's explanations. "Everybody is lying but the defendant."

The state alleges he was hired by Gattuso's former father-in-law for $3,000 and a promise of $10,000 more. The ex-father-in-law, Gene Kirkpatrick, is accused of arranging the murder to try to gain custody of the 3-year-old daughter of Gattuso. He faces a conspiracy to commit murder charge in a separate case set for trial next spring.

Both the murder charge against Nakvinda and the conspiracy murder charge against Kirkpatrick are AA felonies that could carry a prison term upon conviction of life without parole.

Defense attorney Steve Mottinger emphasized the lack of forensic evidence or eyewitness accounts tying Nakvinda to Fargo or the crime scene, saying while the evidence suggests he's guilty, it doesn't prove it.

The handyman insists he was told by Kirkpatrick to come to North Dakota to pick up a car Kirkpatrick had purchased and that someone else loaded up his truck and rented trailer with the stolen Porsche and the suspected murder weapon. He never traveled farther north than Wahpeton, N.D., where he woke mid-day on Oct. 26 to find his truck and trailer already loaded, he claims.

"Only Gene Kirkpatrick knows who he hired to kill Philip Gattuso," Mottinger said.

Fargo Police Detective Paula Ternes said no evidence of a third person being involved in the killing was ever discovered.

Mottinger said the state's case was "too neat, too convenient." He asked the jury why an ex-convict like Nakvinda wouldn't have the sense to dispose of the murder weapon or not rent the trailer and the storage space in his own name.

"It borders on the ridiculous," Mottinger said.

Burdick said Nakvinda's story isn't corroborated by any of the other testimony and a timeline established by security tapes make it unlikely there would have been time for the "mysterious man" to get the truck and trailer to Wahpeton in time for Nakvinda to show up on the rest-stop video.

In the final portion of his closing, Burdick said while it would be helpful if all crimes were committed at the 50-yard line of a football field with cameras rolling, it seems criminals "never pick the football field."

Then Burdick made a direct plea to the jurors.

"His story doesn't wash. Don't buy it," he said.