Jurors deliberated for a second day Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with killing two women in their homes, including a Hollywood woman who was set to go out that night with actor Ashton Kutcher, and attacking a woman who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment.
Michael Gargiulo, 43, is accused in 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. The murder charges include special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait.
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.
He could face the death penalty if he is convicted of the killings and found to have been sane at the time of the crimes.
The violent nature of the attacks earned the killer the moniker “Hollywood Ripper.”
Jurors deliberated for more than four hours Monday without reaching a verdict, and they returned to court to resume discussions Tuesday morning. The panel asked to hear a read-back of some trial testimony, which was done behind closed doors. The nature of that testimony was not disclosed by court officials.
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.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon told jurors last week that Gargiulo — whom he called the “boy-next-door killer” — targeted the women in “frenzied knife attacks” that are “inextricably linked.”
One of Gargiulo’s attorneys, 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 and Pacaccio.
Another defense attorney, Dale Rubin, said 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.
In his rebuttal argument, Akemon countered the defense’s claim that Gargiulo woke up in the middle of the attack on Murphy and apologized while running away, calling that account 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.
The prosecutor called Gargiulo a “stone-cold serial killer who preys on women” who lived near him and waited 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.
The jury heard testimony May 29 from Kutcher, who told jurors that he showed up at Ellerin’s home to pick her up after speaking with her on the phone, knocked on the door, peered through a window and saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” he said.
The actor testified that he left Ellerin’s home because he thought she had already gone out with a friend.
Kutcher 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. He said he and Ellerin were acquaintances.
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.