Jurors are set to begin hearing closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of being a “boy-next-door killer” charged with killing two women less than five years apart, including a fashion design student who was set to go out that night with actor Ashton Kutcher.
Michael Gargiulo, 43, is charged with the Feb. 22, 2001, slaying of Ashley Ellerin in Hollywood and the Dec. 1, 2005, killing of Maria Bruno in an El Monte apartment, along with the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008. He is also charged with trying to escape from jail.
He is facing trial in Illinois with the Aug. 14, 1993, killing of Tricia Pacaccio, an 18-year-old woman who was repeatedly stabbed on her front door step after returning home from a night out with friends, but the Los Angeles Superior Court jury is not being asked to determine whether Gargiulo is guilty or innocent of that slaying. Deputy District Attorney Daniel Akemon told jurors at the beginning of the trial that the crime would be used to show motive and intent.
One of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, told jurors that his client is innocent of the killings, while the prosecution alleges that the killing spree ended after the attack on Murphy, who fought back after being confronted while she was asleep.
“The methodical and systematic slaughter of women by Michael Gargiulo — the boy-next-door killer — that’s what this case is about,” the prosecutor told jurors May 2 in his opening statement, saying that the defendant’s favorite hobby was plotting to attack women with a knife in and around their homes. “They all lived near Gargiulo. He had targeted them for murder and he ultimately attacked all of them with a knife.”
Gargiulo subsequently bragged to two friends about Pacaccio’s killing, telling one, “I actually left the bitch on the step for dead,” and informing another that he had stabbed a girl, according to the prosecutor. The defendant’s DNA was found on the fingernails of the high school graduate, who had been set to start at Purdue University, Akemon said.
After Pacaccio’s killing in Illinois, Gargiulo moved to Hollywood where Ellerin’s friends noticed that he showed up uninvited and that he seemed to be “fixated” on her at a party, the prosecutor told jurors.
Kutcher, who had spoken to the 22-year-old woman on the phone a little over two hours earlier, testified 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 actor — best known for his work on the TV sitcoms “That ’70s Show” and “Two and a Half Men” — said he learned the next day what happened to her, spoke to police and was “freaking out” because he knew his fingerprints would be on the front door of her home.
The young woman’s roommate discovered her dead the next morning. She had been stabbed 47 times in the hallway outside her bathroom in an attack in which she was nearly decapitated, the prosecutor told jurors.
Gargiulo subsequently moved to El Monte and lived in the same apartment complex where Bruno was “mutilated” as she slept, Akemon said. The prosecutor alleged that Gargiulo stabbed the 32-year-old woman 17 times, cut off her breasts, tried to remove her breast implants and placed one of her breasts on her mouth.
A blue surgical bootie found outside the apartment contained drops of her blood along with Gargiulo’s DNA around the elastic band, and another blue surgical bootie appearing to be the same model was recovered from the attic of the El Monte apartment unit he had rented, the deputy district attorney said.
Gargiulo was able to escape detection for nearly 15 years before accidentally cutting himself with a knife and leaving a “blood trail” during the Santa Monica attack, Akemon said.
In his opening statement, Nardoni told jurors that 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,” the defense attorney said, noting that his client is presumed to be innocent.
He noted that 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.
Nardoni 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.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder by means of lying in wait, along with allegations that he used a knife in the commission of the crimes. Gargiulo could face the death penalty if convicted.
Authorities in Illinois charged him in 2011 with Pacaccio’s slaying.
Gargiulo — who has a 1997 felony conviction for burglary in Cook County, Illinois — lived one block away from Pacaccio at the time of the slaying and was good friends with one of her two younger brothers, according to an arrest warrant filed in Cook County.
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