Jurors recommended a death sentence Friday for the so-called “Hollywood Ripper,” who was convicted of killing and mutilating two Southland women and attacking a third who survived to testify against him.
Michael Gargiulo — who is set to be formally sentenced Feb. 28 — 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 the 43-year-old defendant guilty of the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who was 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.
Jurors deliberated less than five hours before reaching their verdict in the penalty phase, opting for a recommendation of death over a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Outside court, one of Gargiulo’s attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, said he was “really disappointed” with the jury’s verdict.
He told reporters that there is a different type of punishment for the mentally ill — life without the possibility of parole — and said that it was “just a matter of humanity.”
Nardoni had argued that a life prison term 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 told the jury in his final argument.
Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron countered that Gargiulo left a “trail of death, destruction and devastation” and told jurors about the defendant’s “violent victimization of countless women throughout his life,” starting with Pacaccio, the sister of one of his childhood friends, when he was 17.
“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 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 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.”
Gargiulo’s attorney pleaded with jurors to show mercy to his client and urged them 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 Illinois 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.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: