Kirkpatrick trial jury selection begins
FARGO (AP) -- The lawyer for an Oklahoma man charged in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme in North Dakota quizzed potential jurors Tuesday about the credibility of police and used the Casey Anthony case in Florida as an example of mistaken conclusions.
Gene Kirkpatrick of Jones, Okla., is accused of hiring his handyman to kill his former son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso. Authorities say Kirkpatrick paid Michael Nakvinda $3,000 for the October 2009 hit because Kirkpatrick did not agree with the way his granddaughter was being raised.
Kirkpatrick, 64, has pleaded not guilty to murder and burglary conspiracy charges. Nakvinda was found guilty earlier this year of beating Gattuso to death with a hammer.
Lawyers say the trial could last between 10 days and three weeks.
It got off to a slow start. The more than 100 people in the jury pool were given most of the morning off when it was discovered that the court did not have some of the pre-trial written questionnaires.
Thirty-six candidates were seated in the afternoon and interviewed by Kirkpatrick's lawyer, Mack Martin of Oklahoma City. Martin singled out several people who answered question No. 63 of the survey by saying they believed law enforcement officers were more credible than ordinary citizens.
He asked prospective jurors if they believed police had "a little halo over their heads that makes them better" than other citizens.
"We all respect law enforcement officers and we all know what they do, but they don't carry any unique credibility when they walk into this courtroom," Martin said.
Kirkpatrick was told during a police interrogation that Nakvinda implicated him in the killing, when he had not. Martin tried unsuccessfully in the first trial to have the interview -- and Kirkpatrick's alleged confession -- thrown out.
Defense attorneys have said in court documents they don't believe Kirkpatrick can get a fair trial in Fargo because of extensive media coverage. Martin said "that is one of the biggest concerns I have" and was the reason for the surveys. As an example, he cited the reporting on Anthony, who was acquitted on July 5 of killing her 2-year-old daughter.
"The media had supplied a completely different conclusion to that case than what happened," Martin said.
Prosecutors allege that Kirkpatrick was unhappy with the way Philip was raising his granddaughter, Kennedy. Valerie Gattuso, Philip's wife and Kirkpatrick's daughter, died in March 2009 after an extended illness. Five-year-old Kennedy is now in the custody of Roy Gattuso, Philip's brother.
Kirkpatrick testified in the Nakvinda trial that he and Nakvinda talked on several occasions about what it would take to kill Gattuso, but never gave the final order.
Attorneys are looking to seat a 14-person jury, including two alternates. Martin had not finished his interviews when court was adjourned.
Cass County District Court Judge Steven Marquart apologized twice during Tuesday's proceedings, once for the survey mix-up and once for the sweltering heat inside the courthouse.
"This is really unbearable," the judge said.