Jurors were handed the case Thursday against a man accused of being the so-called “boy-next-door killer,” charged with the murders of two Southland women in their homes and a 2008 attack on a woman who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury is due back in court Monday to begin its deliberations in the trial of Michael Gargiulo, who is charged with the Feb. 22, 2001 killing of 22-year-old Hollywood resident Ashley Ellerin — who had been set to go out that night with actor Ashton Kutcher — and the Dec. 1, 2005 slaying of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in her El Monte apartment.
Kutcher — who was called to the stand during the trial — testified that he showed up at Ellerin’s home to pick her up after speaking with her on the phone, saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet and left because he thought she had already gone out for the night. He told jurors that 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.
Gargiulo also is facing an attempted murder charge stemming from an April 2008 attack on 26-year-old Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times, along with 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 he is convicted of the killings and found to have been sane at the time of the crimes.
Gargiulo is awaiting trial separately in Illinois on a murder charge stemming from the Aug. 14, 1993, slaying of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, who was the sister of one of his friends. She was killed outside her home.
In his final argument, Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon told jurors that Gargiulo targeted the women in “frenzied knife attacks” that are “inextricably linked.”
The prosecutor called Gargiulo a “stone-cold serial killer who preys on women” who lived near him and laid in wait for the perfect opportunity to attack them at night in or near their homes in “totally planned killings.”
The three women who were killed each had injuries to their breasts, with Ellerin and Bruno being attacked shortly after having sex with men who had left their homes, according to Akemon.
“In this trial, you have seen into the mind of a serial killer,” the deputy district attorney said, calling the defendant “the boy-next-door killer” who did not make a lot of mistakes.
One of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Dale Rubin, told jurors that the attempted murder charge involving Murphy — in which DNA evidence allegedly linked Gargiulo to the attack — 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.
The defense attorney 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.
Another of Gargiulo’s lawyers, Daniel Nardoni, suggested that other men were responsible for the deadly attacks, telling jurors that there was no DNA evidence inside the victims’ homes to link the killings to Gargiulo. He has said that his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno or Pacaccio.
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.”
In his rebuttal argument, Akemon countered that all of the attacks were personal and said the defense’s claim that Gargiulo woke up in the middle of the attack on Murphy and apologized while running away was a “complete fabrication.” He questioned why Gargiulo would be apologizing if he just woke up, and said it was not reasonable to conclude that the defendant was in a fugue state or “unconscious” at the time of each of the attacks.
“Tricia Pacaccio, Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno, through the evidence in this case, are testifying from the grave and telling you that defendant Gargiulo murdered them … Michelle Murphy triumphed over evil that night,” the prosecutor said, urging jurors to hold Gargiulo responsible for the “death and destruction” he had caused.
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.