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Man receives lifetime prison sentence for "senseless" murder of Fargo dentist

Michael Nakvinda has been sent to prison for the rest of his life for murdering a Fargo dentist, Philip Gattuso, in October 2009.

Nakvinda was ordered to serve a lifetime prison term without chance for parole in a sentencing hearing this morning in Cass County District Court.

In arguing for a life term with no parole, Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick called the murder brutal, senseless, planned and unprovoked.

"This wasn't a hasty, rash act in a moment of rage," Burdick said. "He watched. He waited. And then he acted."

After the hearing, Burdick said prosecutors gave no consideration to asking for a lesser sentence.

"This is the time you have to pull out that particular arrow," he said. "We never wavered from that thought."

Nakvinda's attorney had argued for a sentence that would allow parole at some point, suggesting either 27 years or life with the possibility of parole.

"Circumstances change. Facts change. People change," defense attorney Steve Mottinger said.

Last month, Cass County jurors found Nakvinda guilty of murdering Gattuso for hitting the dentist in the head with a hammer at least 10 times the morning of Oct. 26, 2009, leaving the Fargo father to die on his bedroom floor, skull shattered like broken glass as blood pooled under him.

The jury also found him guilty on robbery, burglary and theft charges after a nine-day trial which ended with Nakvinda taking the stand to claim that his co-defendant, Gene Kirkpatrick, was framing him.

Life without parole was the maximum sentence for the murder conviction, and Judge Frank Racek also sentenced Nakvinda to the maximum prison term on the three other counts - 20 years for robbery, 10 years for burglary and 5 years for theft of property.

During the trial, Nakvinda, 42, Oklahoma City, did not dispute he had hauled Gattuso's stolen Porsche from North Dakota back to Oklahoma, where it was found in a storage unit he had rented. Nor did he deny a hammer with the dentist's blood and hair on it and items stolen from his home were inside the convertible he'd stored away.

However, he denied killing Gattuso, saying he had been told by Kirkpatrick to pick up the Porsche. After he spent the night of Oct. 25 in Wahpeton, N.D., he awoke to find his rented trailer already loaded with the car, Nakvinda said.

Nakvinda maintained his innocence in brief remarks at this morning's hearing, saying evidence he's been unable to review will exonerate him. No witnesses saw him in Fargo, and no forensic evidence linked to him was found at the scene of the murder.

He plans to file an appeal.

"I can face God right now today and know I'm innocent of these charges 100 percent," said Nakvinda, who also said the Gattuso family is in his prayers.

A July trial is scheduled for Kirkpatrick, who faces a charge of conspiracy to commit murder - accused of paying Nakvinda $3,000 in expenses and promising him $10,000 more to murder Gattuso, the former son-in-law of Kirkpatrick. He also told police he made a video of Gattuso's south Fargo condominium and checked the dentist's schedule at the request of Nakvinda.

In the police interview a Cass County judge ruled was admissible at trial in a hearing Thursday, Kirkpatrick said he wanted Gattuso dead after the wife of the dentist and Kirkpatrick's daughter - Valerie Gattuso - died in March 2009.

Kirkpatrick told cops his family wanted custody of Gattuso's 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, and the girl's future was more valuable to him than Gattuso's life.

The 64-year-old of Jones, Okla., claims he didn't give Nakvinda, his handyman, a "green light" to go ahead with the murder-for-hire.

In arguing for leniency, Mottinger made reference to Kirkpatrick, saying that whether or not Nakvinda's story is true, he "did not put the wheels in motion."