Jurors resumed deliberations Thursday to determine if the so-called “Hollywood Ripper” was sane at the time of the stabbing and mutilation murders of two Southland women, including one who was killed and nearly decapitated hours before she was set to go out on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury — which was handed the sanity phase of the case Wednesday afternoon — convicted Michael Gargiulo, 43, last Thursday of first-degree murder for 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.
Jurors also convicted him of trying to kill 26-year-old Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008, along with attempting to escape from jail, and found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait.
If jurors find that Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes, they 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.
In court Wednesday, one of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Dale Rubin, showed the panelists photos of the murder victims’ bloody bodies on a large courtroom screen.
“… The question becomes can a legally sane person do this? Can this end result be done by a legally sane person? And we believe the answer is no,” Rubin said, noting that the defense has the burden to prove Gargiulo was legally insane at the time of the crimes.
The lawyer told jurors his client suffered “horrendous, monstrous child abuse” starting at about age 2.
“If you look at what was done to Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno, I don’t know, I cannot conceive of a sane person doing that to someone else,” Gargiulo’s attorney said.
Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron told jurors Gargiulo is “not normal” but said “evil does not mean insane” and maintained the defendant knew what he was doing was wrong.
The prosecutor said the attacks were “calculated,” “planned” and “meticulously carried out,” calling them “systematic murders done by someone who enjoyed the act itself.”
Dameron noted that an expert retained for the prosecution opined that Gargiulo suffered only from anti-social personality disorder and disputed a defense expert’s conclusion that Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder, which the defense argued could have caused him to go into an “amnesiac” or fugue state.
“This is not the work of somebody who’s legally insane,” the prosecutor told jurors. “Michael Gargiulo was legally sane when he committed these crimes.”
The violent nature of the attacks earned the killer the moniker “Hollywood Ripper.” Deputy District Attorney Dan 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 — best known for his work on the TV sitcoms “That ’70s Show” and “Two and a Half Men” — 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, the actor said he looked through a window and saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet. He said he left because he thought Ellerin had already gone out for the night.
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 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.
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