Closing arguments are set Tuesday in the final phase of the trial for the man dubbed the “Hollywood Ripper” as jurors are being asked to recommend whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the grisly slayings of two women, including one who was set to go out later that night with actor Ashton Kutcher.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury in Michael Gargiulo’s trial heard testimony last week from family members of the two women, along with a woman who survived being stabbed eight times. The panel also heard from Gargiulo’s 16-year-old son, who said he didn’t want his father to be executed.
Gargiulo, 43, 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 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.
Jurors also found him guilty of the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.
The panel also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while lying in wait, 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 doorstep after returning home in Glenview, Illinois, from a night out with friends on Aug. 14, 1993. Jurors in Gargiulo’s Los Angeles trial heard about that killing, with her mother and two brothers testifying during the trial’s penalty phase.
Prosecutors said Gargiulo lived near each of the four women.
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 — who co-starred 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.