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Bail for suspect in slaying set at $1 million

FARGO, N.D. -- A judge set bail at $1 million Friday for the man accused of hiring another man to kill Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso.

Gene Carl Kirkpatrick, 63, of Jones, Okla., appeared in Cass County District Court before Judge Steven Marquart on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit burglary in the death of Philip Gattuso in October.

It was Kirkpatrick's first court appearance in Fargo since arriving in Fargo Wednesday after Cass County authorities picked him up and transported him from a jail in Oklahoma.

During the hearing, Kirkpatrick smiled briefly when Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick told Marquart that Kirkpatrick likely had a passport, which the prosecutor said should be surrendered if Kirkpatrick posts bail.

Burdick also told Marquart that the primary motive for the crime appeared to involve the custody of Kirkpatrick's granddaughter, Kennedy Gattuso, who is now in the custody of Philip Gattuso's extended family.

Because the custody situation is similar to what it was before the crime, Burdick said it raises the possibility "history could, in fact, repeat itself."

Initially, Kirkpatrick planned to fight extradition in the case but changed his mind during a recent hearing in Oklahoma.

His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 23.

If convicted, the murder conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. The burglary charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Police believe Kirkpatrick paid $3,000 to his former handyman, Michael Allen Nakvinda, to kill Gattuso in hopes of gaining custody of the dentist's daughter. Kirkpatrick's daughter Valerie was married to Gattuso but died earlier this year.

Nakvinda is accused of beating Gattuso to death with a hammer - hitting him nine to 11 times - on Oct. 26.

He is currently in the Cass County Jail.

Philip Gattuso's brother, Roy, has been granted temporary custody of 3-year-old Kennedy Gattuso.

Dave Olson is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo/Moorhead. The Forum and the Bemidji Pioneer are owned by Forum Communications Co.