Jurors in the trial of the so-called “Hollywood Ripper” reached a verdict Friday in the trial’s last phase, in which they were asked to recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without parole for the man convicted of killing and mutilating two Southland women and attacking a third.
The jury’s verdict in the case of 43-year-old Michael Gargiulo — which was reached after discussions over portions of three days — was scheduled to be read Friday afternoon at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.
During closing arguments in the trial’s penalty phase, Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron told jurors that Gargiulo left a “trail of death, destruction and devastation,” but a defense attorney contended the defendant is mentally ill and should spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“In this case, justice demands that Michael Gargiulo be put to death for the lives he has taken and the destruction and pain he has caused,” Dameron said, adding that the defendant lived a “normal life by day” and was a “completely different individual” at night.
Gargiulo’s attorney, Daniel Nardoni, urged jurors to recommend a life prison sentence without parole, saying it would be a “slow and agonizing punishment over time” that would serve as a constant reminder to Gargiulo of what he has done.
“I believe it’s inhumane to execute a mentally ill person,” he said.
Gargiulo was convicted Aug. 15 of two counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 22, 2001, slaying of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood bungalow hours before she 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.
Jurors also found him guilty of the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.
The panel 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 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.
The panel also heard from family members of Ellerin and Bruno, along with Murphy and her husband. Gargiulo’s 16-year-old son and a forensic psychologist who interviewed his family members — who refused to travel to Los Angeles to testify during the trial — were called during the defense’s portion of the case.
The violent nature of the attacks earned Gargiulo the moniker “Hollywood Ripper.” Deputy District Attorney Dan 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.”
In his closing argument, Dameron told jurors about Gargiulo’s “violent victimization of countless women throughout his life,” starting with Pacaccio, the sister of one of his childhood friends, when he was 17.
“Michael Gargiulo has left a trail of death, destruction and devastation behind him,” the prosecutor said, telling the panel that the defendant deserved the same mercy he had shown his victims.
Gargiulo’s attorney pleaded with jurors to show mercy to his client and to consider any lingering doubt that they had about his involvement in the killings that would caution against a death sentence.
The defense lawyer urged the panel to consider testimony about Gargiulo’s upbringing, including a forensic psychologist’s account of childhood abuse by family members.
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, according to the prosecution.
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 told jurors earlier during the trial.
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.