Fargo Hammer Killing an Alleged Contract Hit

Victim's father-in-law arrested for conspiracy in connection to killing.

Nov. 3, 2009 — -- A 63-year-old Oklahoma City man, accused of hiring his former handyman to kill his son-in-law with a hammer more than 1,000 miles away, in Fargo, N.D., will fight extradition to Fargo, the man told an Oklahoma judge today.

Gene Kirkpatrick was arrested Monday night, exactly a week after his son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso, 49, was bludgeoned to death in his home, allegedly by career criminal and Oklahoma City resident Michael Nakvinda, 41. Kirkpatrick told an Oklahoma City judge at a hearing this afternoon he plans to "stay here and fight extradition."

Kirkpatrick allegedly paid Nakvinda $3,000 for the contract hit with a "promise of more to come," Jessica Brown, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, told ABC News.

Nakvinda is also charged with stealing Gattuso's 1999 Porsche Boxster and several electronics from his home.

A custody battle over Gattuso's 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, whose mother, Valerie Gattuso, died in March, is believed to be one of the possible motives behind the killing, Brown said.

While Kirkpatrick was not initially considered a suspect in the case, his arrest did not ultimately surprise investigators in Fargo, police said.

"When a case like this begins, it's pretty wide open," said Capt. Todd Dahle of the Fargo Police Department. "We didn't even have a suspect at first. ... Naturally, you try to talk to family members. I don't know if I would have characterized him as a suspect."

Officials with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation arrested Nakvinda over the weekend after piecing together surveillance tapes and interviews with several witnesses who say they saw a truck with a U-haul trailer and Oklahoma license plates leaving Gattuso's home with what appeared to be his silver Posche in the trailer.

Investigators located the stolen car Monday in Oklahoma and discovered more evidence of the crime inside, Brown said.

Nakvinda is the only suspect in the killing, police in Fargo said, but the alleged conspiracy to kill Gattuso could expand beyond Kirkpatrick. The investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is still open, and interviews are continuing, Brown said.

The Gattusos' daughter remains in the temporary custody of the late wife's sister, Regan Williams, in Oklahoma, Fargo police said.

Phillip Gattuso's brother, Roy Gattuso, told Oklahoma's The Forum he would "do everything in my power to obtain permanent custody of Kennedy."

Police: Even After Arrests, Weeks of Work Left

Since his arrest Saturday, Nakvinda has provided some begrudging assistance in the case, Dahle of the Fargo Police Department said.

"It's tough to characterize that as cooperative," Dahle told ABC News. "[But] it's hard for me to say it's uncooperative."

Nakvinda served 10 years in prison in the 1990s for several convictions including burglary, kidnapping, assault, illegal possession of a firearm and rape.

Kirkpatrick's wife, Susan, declined to comment to ABC News.

The difficult part for police now comes in wrangling all the evidence in a case that spans states into a "usable product for the prosecution," Dahle of the Fargo Police Department told ABC News.

"With a case as extensive, that travels over 1,000 miles ... it will be days and weeks of work to be done before this is completed," he said.

Nakvinda waived his extradition and is expected to be brought to Fargo within 10 days. At the hearing today, Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliot told Kirkpatrick he could be ordered to North Dakota if officials there demand his presence. An extradition hearing for Kirkpatrick is likely to come in the next 30 to 60 days.

Both suspects have lawyers but are not expected to enter pleas until they are in North Dakota, police said.

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