An attorney representing a man accused of being the so-called “boy-next-door killer” urged jurors to acquit his client of the murders of two Southland women, but acknowledged there is evidence linking the defendant to a 2008 attack on a woman who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment.
One of Michael Gargiulo’s attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, told the downtown Los Angeles jury that the evidence against his client involving the April 2008 attack on 26-year-old Michelle Murphy — for which prosecutors say Gargiulo was linked by DNA to blood evidence left at the scene — is “much stronger” and called it “the elephant in the courtroom.”
He urged jurors to consider each of the charges separately, saying that he believed the panel should acquit Gargiulo of the Feb. 22, 2001 killing of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home and the Dec. 1, 2005 slaying of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in her El Monte apartment.
Another of Gargiulo’s lawyers, Dale Rubin, told jurors that the attempted murder charge involving Murphy was the “only count in which the prosecution has shown Mr. Gargiulo was in her apartment and attacked her.” But the defense attorney cited an expert’s conclusion that Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder, arguing that it could have caused him to go into an “amnesiac” or fugue state during the attack on Murphy.
“In other words, he can’t premeditate. He can’t deliberate,” Rubin told the panel later about his client.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron told jurors Tuesday that the defendant chose victims with whom he lived in close proximity and “selected their homes as his hunting ground” and that he was “not a man who went into some unconscious state.” The prosecution’s expert opined that the defendant suffered solely from anti-social personality disorder, Dameron said.
Along with the murder charges, Gargiulo is facing an attempted murder charge stemming from the attack on Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times, and an attempted escape charge.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait.
The 43-year-old defendant could face the death penalty if convicted of the killings.
In the defense’s final argument, Rubin told jurors that there was “no direct evidence” that Gargiulo attacked and killed Ellerin or Bruno, arguing that the prosecution had presented “absolutely no evidence” of his client’s whereabouts at the time of the slayings.
The defense tried to foist blame upon two other men who acknowledged seeing Ellerin and Bruno in the hours before their deaths, with Gargiulo’s attorneys telling jurors that there was no DNA evidence inside the victims’ homes to link Gargiulo to those attacks.
Nardoni told the panel that a male friend who acknowledged going to Ellerin’s residence to have sex with her heard her talking on the phone with someone before he left her home after she took a shower, and that a man walking a dog nearby reported hearing two screams from a woman shortly after actor Ashton Kutcher reported talking with her in a phone conversation that night.
Kutcher — who was also called to the stand during the trial — testified that he showed up at Ellerin’s 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.
Showing jurors a photograph of the crime scene where Bruno was stabbed 17 times and her breasts were cut off by her assailant, Nardoni told the panel that the assailant made it “personal.”
Jurors are expected to be handed the case Thursday after hearing a rebuttal argument from Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon.
Dameron told jurors in his closing argument Tuesday that Gargiulo’s failed attack on Murphy left both of them bleeding and provided investigators with DNA evidence that led to Gargiulo being charged in two other killings — Bruno’s slaying and the Aug. 14, 1993, attack on 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, who was killed on her doorstep in Illinois, where Gargiulo lived at the time.
Meanwhile, blood drops leading from Ellerin’s body to the front door of her Hollywood home were found to the left of shoeprints at the scene, signaling that the person who stabbed the 22-year-old woman and left her nearly decapitated was left-handed as is Gargiulo, Dameron said.
Gargiulo is still awaiting trial in Illinois on a murder charge involving the killing of Pacaccio, who was the sister of one of his friends.
The prosecutor told jurors that Murphy “had the strength and courage to fight off a killer” and that the DNA evidence from Murphy’s bedroom helped link Gargiulo to DNA on Pacaccio’s fingernails and to DNA detected on a bootie left outside Bruno’s apartment.
Nardoni countered that Pacaccio may have picked up DNA from the Gargiulo family van after he offered her a ride hours before she was killed, and that the bootie may have dropped out of Gargiulo’s pocket earlier and been lying on the ground at the time the killer left Bruno’s apartment and left blood on the bootie. He has said that his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno or Pacaccio.
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.