The so-called “Hollywood Ripper” — who repeatedly stabbed and mutilated two Southland women, including one who was killed and nearly decapitated hours before she was set to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher — was legally insane at the time of the crimes, his attorney told jurors Tuesday, while a prosecutor countered that the defendant knew exactly what he was doing.
The jury that convicted Michael Gargiulo last Thursday is being asked to determine the 43-year-old defendant’s state of mind at the time of the Feb. 22, 2001, killing of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home, the Dec. 1, 2005, slaying of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in her El Monte apartment and the April 2008 attack on 26-year-old Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment. Jurors also convicted him of trying to escape from jail.
If they find that Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes, the jurors would be asked in a third phase of the trial to recommend whether Gargiulo should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they find he was insane, he would be sent to a state mental hospital. The panel is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Wednesday for jury instructions and possible closing arguments.
“… Someone who would do these kinds of things that you have convicted Mr. Gargiulo of is not a sane person,” Dale Rubin, one of Gargiulo’s attorneys, told the jury in his opening statement in the trial’s sanity phase. “The question that we really have to decide at this point is how crazy do you have to be to engage in this kind of conduct.”
The defense attorney noted that Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon had urged jurors during his closing argument in the trial’s guilt phase to get inside the mind of a serial killer.
“Mr. Akemon also indicated to you that defendant Gargiulo is a serial killer and a predator and everyone’s worst nightmare, so you don’t get to be those things by being normal. Normal people don’t do these things,” Rubin said. “There’s nothing about the crimes that he’s been convicted of that could be considered to be normal in a sane person. Only someone who is mentally ill could have behaved in this way, and I would like to help you understand that this kind of monstrous behavior from an adult is the direct outcome of truly monstrous abuse that was received in childhood over a long period of time.”
The prosecutor countered that the evidence will show that “defendant Gargiulo knew exactly what he was doing in these well-planned attacks and he knew that it was legally and morally wrong for him to try to kill Michelle Murphy and successfully murder Maria Bruno and Ashley Ellerin.”
“This is not the work of a normal person,” Akemon told the panel, saying that “as abnormal as the acts are,” they were the “acts of a very cold and calculating person.”
He told jurors to reject the defense’s contention that Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder that could have caused him to go into an “amnesiac” or fugue state at the time of the attack on Murphy.
Vianne Castellano, a forensic psychologist who testified on behalf of the defense, told the jury, “What Mr. Gargiulo has is a severe mental illness that has rendered him insane in my opinion that shows up in the character and nature of the murders and the attempted murder that he was convicted of.”
Castellano noted that there is a “mental health history” in Gargiulo’s family, and testified that she believed he suffered four categories of abuse — physical confinement, severe physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse — beginning at about age 2 and involving “multiple abusers.” She described what was done to him as “monstrous” and called his crimes “frenzied” and “rage killings” in which he was fighting demons from his past, but said she did not know what triggered him to go into dissociative episodes.
Deborah Budding, a clinical neuropsychologist who was asked to assess Gargiulo for the defense, said the defendant had an average IQ but had been in special education since third grade due to emotional and behavioral reasons, and had self-regulatory problems, mood problems and impulsivity.
The prosecution’s expert, clinical psychologist Robert Schug, told jurors that he believes Gargiulo meets the criteria for anti-social personality disorder — which does not qualify for legal insanity — but did not find any other evidence of mental disease or defect in the defendant.
Schug testified that he did not find any evidence that Gargiulo would have been unable to understand that his actions were legally or morally wrong.
He said he “absolutely” believed serial killers can be sane.
The violent nature of the attacks earned the killer the moniker “Hollywood Ripper.” Akemon also referred to Gargiulo as the “Boy Next Door” killer, noting that he lived near all of his victims and telling jurors that Gargiulo targeted the women in “frenzied knife attacks” that are “inextricably linked.”
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.
After Pacaccio was killed outside her home, Gargiulo moved to Hollywood, where Ellerin’s friends noticed that he showed up uninvited to a party and that he seemed to be “fixated” on her, Akemon said.
Kutcher testified during the guilt phase of the trial that he had spoken to Ellerin on the phone the afternoon she died, and showed up at her home two hours later to pick her up. When she didn’t answer her door, he looked through a window and saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet, Kutcher testified. He said he left because he thought Ellerin 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.
Gargiulo subsequently moved to El Monte and lived in the same apartment complex where Bruno was “mutilated” as she slept, Akemon said. The prosecutor said 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 prosecutor said.
Gargiulo was able to escape detection until he accidentally cut himself with a knife during the 2008 attack on Murphy — near where he lived at the time in Santa Monica — and left a “blood trail” during that attack, Akemon said.
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. 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 her slaying and was good friends with one of her two younger brothers, according to an arrest warrant filed in Cook County.
One of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, suggested in his closing argument in the trial’s guilt phase that other men were responsible for the deadly Southland attacks, telling jurors there was no DNA evidence inside the victims’ homes to link the killings to Gargiulo. He said his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno and Pacaccio.
Gargiulo’s other lawyer, Rubin, told jurors that the attempted murder charge involving Murphy — in which DNA evidence 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 said Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder and may not have been fully aware during that 2008 assault.
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, questioning why Gargiulo would be apologizing if he just woke up. 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.
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