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Judge sets trial date for man accused of killing Fargo dentist

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

An Aug. 10 trial date was set Wednesday for the man accused of beating a Fargo dentist to death last fall, as a few more details about the case trickled out in pre-trial court filings.

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In setting the trial date, Cass County District Court Judge Frank Racek asked for assurances from the attorneys that it gives them enough time to prepare for a murder trial expected to last as long as two weeks.

Racek said that he won't grant any additional delays to the start of the trial for Michael Allen Navkinda, the 41-year-old Oklahoma man charged with murder in the death of Philip Gattuso.

Both Steve Mottinger, the defense attorney, and Birch Burdick, the Cass County state's attorney, said they expect to be ready to go for the late summer trial.

Mottinger told his client before the hearing started that he expected the trial to last nine days.

"Woo, that's a long time," Nakvinda replied.

The attorneys said after the hearing they expect the case to actually go to trial, while conceding that a plea deal is not off the table.

"In this business, you never say never," Mottinger said.

The case could be back in court on April 7, when a tentative date is set for a hearing on DNA testing.

Prosecutors gave notice earlier this week that they plan to test samples of hair and another piece of unspecified evidence found at the crime scene - Gattuso's condominium on South University Drive. The testing would destroy the samples in question.

Defendants have a right to do independent testing of evidence, Mottinger said in a reply filed Wednesday. If the "consumptive" tests are allowed, they should be required to be done at a lab not affiliated with the state, Mottinger argued.

If Burdick and Mottinger can't reach a settlement on the issue, Racek will hear arguments at the April hearing and make a ruling.

Prosecutors also gave notice this week that they may call Jeremy Leopold to testify in trial. Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Ryan Younggren, who filed the notice, said he couldn't divulge why Leopold could be a witness.

Nakvinda is from Oklahoma and has no known ties to the region. His only apparent connection with Leopold is that both are being held in the Cass County Jail, Nakvinda on $1 million bail and Leopold on $100,000.

Leopold was arrested on Aug. 4, charged with being an accomplice to a robbery. He's suspected of being the getaway driver in robberies at a liquor store and a convenience store in Fargo in July. His case is still pending.

Nakvinda is charged with murder, robbery, theft and burglary. Police think Gene Kirkpatrick, former father-in-law of the dentist, paid Nakvinda $3,000 to murder Gattuso, the father of his granddaughter, and gain custody of the girl.

Kirkpatrick is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. He will be in court March 18 for a hearing in which the state will call witnesses in an attempt to establish probable cause.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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