A killing spree by a so-called “boy-next-door killer” ended with a 2008 attack on a Santa Monica woman that left both of them bleeding and led investigators in the deaths of three other women to answers they had been seeking for as long as 15 years, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
“Eleven years ago, a 26-year-old woman had the strength and courage to fight off a killer,” Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron told jurors in closing arguments of the trial of Michael Gargiulo. Dameron said the struggle left Gargiulo bleeding on Michelle Murphy’s bed, and caused him to leave a blood trail behind as he fled from her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.
DNA evidence from the scene helped link Gargiulo to DNA on the fingernails of Tricia Pacaccio — who was killed Aug. 14, 1993, on her doorstep in Illinois, where Gargiulo lived at the time, and to DNA detected on a bootie left outside Maria Bruno’s El Monte apartment following her Dec. 1, 2005, killing, the prosecutor said.
Meanwhile, blood drops leading from the body of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin to the front door of her Hollywood home were found to the left of shoeprints at the scene, signaling that the person who killed the woman on Feb. 22, 2001, was left handed — like Gargiulo, Dameron said.
Jurors are set to hear Wednesday from Gargiulo’s attorneys, Daniel Nardoni and Dale Rubin.
Gargiulo, 43, is charged in Los Angeles with murder for the slayings of Ellerin and Bruno, along with the attempted murder of Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times.
Ellerin was stabbed 47 times in the hallway outside her bedroom in an attack that left her nearly decapitated.
Actor Ashton Kutcher — who had been set to take Ellerin out that night — testified during the trial that he showed up at her home to pick her up, saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet and left because he thought she had already gone out for the night. The TV star said he learned the next day what had happened to her, spoke to police and was “freaking out” because he knew his fingerprints would be on the front door of her home.
Bruno, 32, was stabbed 17 times in an attack in which her breasts were cut off and one of them was placed on her mouth.
The murder charges stemming from the deaths of Ellerin and Bruno include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait. Gargiulo could face the death penalty if convicted of the killings.
He is still awaiting trial in Illinois on a murder charge involving the killing of Pacaccio, who was the sister of one of his friends.
There were 20 similarities between the attacks on the young, attractive women, showing that the same man committed the crimes, according to the prosecutor.
“He selected their homes as his hunting ground,” Dameron said, noting that Gargiulo lived in close proximity to each of the women.
The prosecutor called the attacks “monstrous,” “torturous” and “cold-blooded” and said each of the women was “ambushed in blitz-style attacks,” overpowered and stabbed multiple times. None of the women were sexually assaulted, and nothing apparently was taken from the victims’ homes, Dameron said.
“Michael Gargiulo has the strength and athleticism to commit these crimes,” the deputy district attorney said of the 6-foot-2 defendant.
The prosecutor said the “most damning piece of evidence” against Gargiulo was his questioning of an undercover sheriff’s investigator posing as an inmate during a jailhouse operation on whether detectives check the dumps, including out-of-town dumps.
In his opening statement May 2, Nardoni maintained that his client is innocent of the killings.
The defense attorney told jurors his client “never admitted to killing any of these women” despite a “42-hour interrogation” by undercover Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies following his arrest. He said his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno or Pacaccio.
“We do not have to prove Michael Gargiulo’s innocence,” Nardoni said, adding that his client is presumed to be innocent.
Gargiulo’s attorney noted there was no DNA or physical evidence, including latent fingerprints, linking Gargiulo to Ellerin’s killing, and no DNA evidence identifiable to his client found within Bruno’s apartment.
He said he believed the panel would conclude that “there is reasonable doubt in this case.”
Gargiulo was arrested in June 2008 by Santa Monica police in connection with the attack on Murphy and was subsequently charged with the killings of Ellerin and Bruno. He was charged in 2011 in Illinois with Pacaccio’s slaying.