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Dentist murder case: Kilkpatrick's lawyers seek change of venue

FARGO - Attorneys for Gene Kirkpatrick have asked a Cass County judge to move his upcoming jury trial out of Fargo and suppress statements he made to detectives during the investigation into the murder of Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso.

Kirkpatrick, whose daughter was married to Gattuso until her death in March 2009, is accused of paying Oklahoma City handyman Michael Nakvinda to kill Gattuso, who was found beaten to death in his south Fargo condo on Oct. 26, 2009.

In a change-of-venue motion filed late Wednesday, Kirkpatrick's attorneys, Steve Light of Fargo and Mack Martin of Oklahoma City, argue that extensive media coverage of the case within Cass County has created "so great a prejudice against the defendant" that he can't receive a fair and impartial trial here.

The attorneys note that The Forum alone has published more than 100 articles in the past year about Kirkpatrick's alleged involvement in Gattuso's death and the custody battle that ensued over Gattuso's daughter.

"Coverage of such cases typically calms down following the arrest of suspects and the passage of time. This case has presented a quite different dynamic," the motion states.

The recent trial of Nakvinda, who was found guilty of murder, robbery, burglary and theft by a Cass County jury on Dec. 10, further heightened public interest in the case, the attorneys argue.

The attorneys are asking the case to be transferred to either Minot or Bismarck.

They also want the court to suppress the interview Kirkpatrick gave to detectives five days after Gattuso's murder, arguing Kirkpatrick was "illegally and unlawfully interrogated" at the Jones, Okla., police station.

Fargo Police Detective Paul Lies and an agent from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, along with other law enforcement officers, "psychologically coerced Mr, Kirkpatrick by questioning him at length when they knew him to be extremely fatigued," the motion to suppress states.

"The officers preyed unmercifully on the extreme sorrow and anger that they knew to understandably be embroiled within the heart of Mr. Kirkpatrick due to the tragic emotional loss of his daughter, Valerie, which culminated over a nineteen (19) month period of time," the motion states.

The attorneys argue that officers "repeatedly lied" to Kirkpatrick about information regarding Gattuso's murder, including telling him that Nakvinda had already confessed and implicated him.

They also contend that officers "spoon fed" reasons to kill Gattuso that they knew would "further enrage Mr. Kirkpatrick and cause him further emotional instability."

Kirkpatrick had just arrived in Oklahoma less than 30 minutes before the interrogation after making a 14-hour drive straight from North Dakota, the motion states.

"Understandably, he was sleep deprived and unable to completely and correctly process his surroundings," it states.

Judge Steven Marquart is scheduled to hear the motions on Jan. 27. Kirkpatrick's jury trial for conspiracy to commit murder is set for Feb. 28.

If Marquart denies the change-of-venue motion, the attorneys are asking that Kirkpatrick's Feb. 28 jury trial be continued to a later date to avoid any possible jury bias created by the proximity to Nakvinda's Jan. 28 sentencing.