The teenage son of the man dubbed the “Hollywood Ripper” told jurors Thursday that he doesn’t want his father to be executed for the grisly slayings of two women.
Michael Gargiulo’s 16-year-old son told the Los Angeles Superior Court panel that is being asked to recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole that it’s important for him to have his father as part of his life.
“I feel like I need him … I don’t want my dad to be killed,” the teen said in emotional testimony. “I don’t see a psychopath. I don’t see a murderer. All I see is (my) father.”
The defendant’s son acknowledged that a lot of bad things had been said about his father, but said he felt his dad had qualities that were important to him.
The teen told jurors that he has limited memories of his father before Gargiulo was arrested in June 2008, but has kept in touch through letters and phone calls in which his father urged him to do well in school and to respect his mother.
He said he initially believed his father was working outside the United States, but eventually learned that he was behind bars. When asked if his father’s conviction changed his feelings about him, the boy responded that it didn’t.
The teen’s testimony came at the end of the penalty phase of trial for his father, who was convicted Aug. 15 of two counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 22, 2001, slaying of Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood bungalow hours before the 22-year-old woman was set to go out with actor Ashton Kutcher, along with the Dec. 1, 2005, killing of Maria Bruno, a 32-year-old mother of four young children, in her El Monte apartment.
Gargiulo also was convicted of the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.
The panel also found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait, making the 43-year-old defendant eligible for the death penalty, and subsequently found that Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes.
He is awaiting trial separately in Illinois in connection with the killing of an 18-year-old woman, Tricia Pacaccio, who was repeatedly stabbed on her front door step after returning home in Glenview, Illinois, from a night out with friends on Aug. 14, 1993.
Prosecutors said Gargiulo lived near each of the four women.
During the trial’s penalty phase, jurors heard from relatives of each of the victims, including Bruno’s husband, Irving, who found his wife’s mutilated body.
“It’s been extremely tough throughout the years … I cannot un-see it,” he said, noting that it has caused him “great pain.”
He said the couple’s four children, who were 2 to 5 years old when their mother was killed, “now know a little more of the specifics as far as her being murdered.”
“Children need their mother and that was taken from them,” he said during emotion-filled testimony.
Called to the stand by the defense, Dr. Vianne Castellano testified that she traveled to Chicago to interview members of Gargiulo’s family who told her about abuse that he had suffered starting as a toddler — including being tied up and left in a closet for two to three days without food or water — and that they described him as being the “designated whipping boy for the family.”
“Their attitude was better him than us,” the forensic psychologist said, while noting that she didn’t find any allegations of child abuse in school or medical records and that she didn’t take notes on everything the family told her. She said Gargiulo doesn’t have any memory of the alleged abuse, but has told her about dreams that he considers to be night terrors.
Gargiulo’s father and most of his siblings “absolutely refused” to travel to California to testify during his trial, she said.
Jurors are set to hear closing arguments next Tuesday from attorneys before being handed the latest portion of the case.
In his opening statement in the trial’s penalty phase, Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon told jurors that the defendant has “led a life of crime and violence that has left a swath of death, grief and destruction behind him.”
“He has earned and deserves the maximum penalty of death,” the prosecutor said.
The violent nature of the attacks earned Gargiulo the moniker “Hollywood Ripper.” Akemon has also referred to the defendant as the “Boy Next Door” killer, noting that he lived near all of his victims and telling jurors that he targeted the women in “frenzied knife attacks” that are “inextricably linked.”
One of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Dale Rubin, countered that his client will die in prison. “The question is when? Is it going to be in God’s time or is it going to be in your time?” Rubin said.
Rubin told jurors that Gargiulo suffers from mental illness, which should exclude him from being sentenced to death.
“The district attorney called Mr. Gargiulo a serial killer. The district attorney called Mr. Gargiulo a psychopath. The district attorney called Mr. Gargiulo psychotic. These are mental issues,” the defense attorney told the panel. “In this country we don’t execute the mentally ill.”
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, the prosecutor told jurors.
Kutcher — known for co-starring 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, according to Akemon.
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 initially arrested 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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