Posted: Dec 6, 2010 8:52 PM by Alison Haynes
FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A woman who hired an Oklahoma City handyman for remodeling projects and became his friend told a North Dakota jury Monday that the man told her about a plan to beat a Fargo dentist with a hammer, but she didn't think he was serious.
Michael Nakvinda is accused of killing Philip Gattuso in October 2009 in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme. A medical examiner has said Gattuso likely was struck repeatedly in the head with a household or ballpeen hammer.
Deborah Baker, who became friends with Nakvinda six years ago, said in tearful testimony Monday that Nakvinda told her before the slaying that he could get rid of Gattuso. Baker said she thought Nakvinda was bluffing and told him he "didn't even like guns," at which time Nakvinda responded he would use a hammer.
"I know in hindsight that should be horrifying to everybody, but at the time I thought he was just putting me on," Baker said.
"I loved him. I couldn't imagine him thinking anything like that," she added.
Authorities believe Gattuso's father-in-law from Oklahoma, Gene Kirkpatrick, hired Nakvinda as a hit man because he didn't like the idea of Gattuso raising his granddaughter. Valerie Gattuso, Philip Gattuso's wife and Kirkpatrick's daughter, died in March 2009 after an extended illness.
Nakvinda's lawyer has said his client he wasn't in Fargo during the slaying and he's being framed by Kirkpatrick, who testified Monday that he and Nakvinda talked about details of killing Gattuso but Kirkpatrick never gave the final order.
"I know what it sounds like," Kirkpatrick said, looking at the jury. "We were just talking."
Kirkpatrick, 64, said he told many people he was upset with the way Gattuso handled his wife's illness and didn't think he would do a good job with the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy. Kirkpatrick admitted he had found a private investigator - at his daughter's request - to tail Gattuso and videotaped Gattuso's residence - at Nakvinda's request.
Kirkpatrick said members of his church prayed that God would take Gattuso. Other friends told him they would take care of the problem if they were in his situation, Kirkpatrick said.
"That's just life. That's just reality. That's what happens," Kirkpatrick said. "It doesn't mean that you are going to do that."
The private investigator "didn't find anything on him whatsoever," Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick faces a murder conspiracy charge. Investigators have said he told police he paid Nakvinda $3,000 for the killing, but Kirkpatrick said Monday that the money was for other projects. He told jurors that when he was interrogated by detectives, he had gone five days without sleeping, had a stomach virus and just finished a 16-hour drive from North Dakota to Oklahoma City.
"It was a shock to me. They were putting words in my mouth," he said of police.
Kirkpatrick said if he knew Nakvinda was going to follow through on the killing, he would have "done anything in my power" to stop it.
"I don't know to this day if Mike was the one who did it," Kirkpatrick said.
Nakvinda jotted down notes during Monday's testimony but showed no emotion.
Gattuso's brother, Roy Gattuso, testified earlier Monday that Philip Gattuso told him Kirkpatrick threatened to kill his son-in-law if he took Kennedy from Oklahoma. Philip Gattuso asked his brother, a New Orleans-area lawyer, to draw up a will to prevent Kirkpatrick and his family from getting custody if Philip died under suspicious circumstances, Roy Gattuso said.
"He was murdered before I got it completed," Roy Gattuso said.
Kirkpatrick denied the charge and said he wouldn't have threatened Philip Gattuso because it would have jeopardized the relationship with his granddaughter.
"That would be stupid. That would be crazy," Kirkpatrick said.
Baker, 59, said at one point she apologized to Sharon Kirkpatrick, Gene's wife, for not taking Nakvinda's threat seriously.
"I realize that I am not responsible for what happened to Philip, but at the same time, I just wish I had . I don't know," she said.