Los Angeles

‘Lie Until You Die.’ Witness Testifies Accused Hollywood Ripper Researched Forensic Science to Avoid Getting Caught

Michael Gargiulo is charged in the stabbing deaths of Maria Bruno, 32, and 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin, who was dating actor Ashton Kutcher at the time.

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Santa Monica PD

What to Know

  • "He told me her head got cut off.," a one-time friend of the suspected Hollywood Ripper testified.
  • Defendant Michael Gargiulo is charged with the murders of two women.
  • He's also charged with the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment.

A one-time friend of an alleged serial murderer testified Monday that he researched forensic science online, liked watching "America's Most Wanted" to learn from criminals' mistakes and told the witness that "lie, lie until you die" was his plan if he was ever accused of a crime.

Defendant Michael Gargiulo is charged with the murders of two women -- the Feb. 22, 2001, slaying of Ashley Ellerin in Hollywood and the Dec. 1, 2005, killing of Maria Bruno in an El Monte apartment -- along with the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment in April 2008.

Mirko Hoffman said he met Gargiulo at a Hollywood gym through the defendant's brother and the two were close enough friends that Hoffman gave Gargiulo a pit bull rescue dog as a birthday gift in 1999.

Hoffman testified that the defendant talked about the murder of a woman who lived a block away from Gargiulo in Hollywood.

"He said she was attractive," Hoffman said. "He told me her head got cut off.''

Gargiulo was interested in forensic science, according to Hoffman.

"He read up on it and he did a lot of research online,'' Hoffman testified. "He said if he ever committed a crime, he would get away with it."

Gargiulo was a fan of the television show "America's Most Wanted," according to Hoffman, because "he would learn lessons from other criminals that got caught."

Hoffman said the defendant shared his own plan.

"Lie, lie until you die ... that's what he said ... would be his plan if he ever got caught doing anything,'' Hoffman testified.

Defense attorneys had sought to bar Hoffman from testifying, saying the witness had researched the case extensively online and couldn't be counted on to separate that information from anything he may have heard from Gargiulo, especially given Hoffman's bias against their client.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler said the jury should be allowed to assess Hoffman's truthfulness.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Dale Rubin sought to discredit Hoffman, noting that he reported the burglary of a rare sniper rifle worth $5,000 to police in February 2003 and named Gargiulo as a suspect in the theft.

Rubin got Hoffman to acknowledge that he had researched the case online when he heard about Gargiulo's arrest, but the witness also insisted that he called police to report what he knew "the very first day that I found out Michael got arrested."

Rubin asked, "Would I be correct to say you dislike Mr. Gargiulo?"

"Yes," Hoffman replied.

Ashton Kutcher testified last week that he showed up in February 2001 at Ellerin's Hollywood bungalow to pick her up for a date, saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet and left because he thought the young fashion design student had already gone out for the night.

The actor -- best known for his work on the TV sitcoms "That '70s Show'' and "Two and a Half Men'' -- said he learned the next day what had happened to Ellerin, spoke to police and was "freaking out'' because he knew his fingerprints would be on the front door of her home.

Kutcher told jurors that he called several times to let Ellerin know he would be late and arrived to find all of the lights on inside Ellerin's home with the front door locked.

When he saw what he thought was spilled wine, "I didn't really think anything of it,'' the 41-year-old actor said, noting that she had recently hosted a party at her home. He "figured I screwed up'' by showing up to her house too late and assumed that she had gone out with a friend.

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, Deputy District Attorney Daniel Akemon told jurors in his opening statement earlier this month.

The prosecutor said Ellerin's friends had noticed earlier that Gargiulo had showed up uninvited and seemed to be "fixated" on her at a party.

After Hoffman left the stand, two El Monte police were called as witnesses, testifying to what they found at Bruno's apartment complex in El Monte after responding to a 911 call from her husband.

The prosecution showed photos of the 32-year-old woman's mutilated body lying in a bed soaked with blood, her throat slashed. Gargiulo lived in the same apartment complex, according to Akemon, who alleged in his opening statement that the defendant had stabbed the woman 17 times, cut off her breasts and tried to remove her breast implants.

Both officers testified that they saw a blue surgical bootie outside Bruno's apartment, presumably the same one that the prosecutor earlier alleged contained drops of her blood along with Gargiulo's DNA.

The prosecutor told jurors in his opening statement that the evidence would show that the women were murdered by a "boy-next-door killer'' who lived near each of them and plotted to attack them with a knife in or near their homes.

Gargiulo was able to escape detection for nearly 15 years before accidentally cutting himself with a knife and leaving a "blood trail" during the Santa Monica attack, Akemon said.

The prosecutor told jurors that they would also hear evidence about a third killing -- the Aug. 14, 1993, slaying of Tricia Pacaccio, an 18-year-old Glenview, Illinois, woman who was repeatedly stabbed on her front door step after returning home from a night out with friends. But he noted that the panel

will not be asked to determine whether Gargiulo is guilty or innocent of Pacaccio's killing, telling jurors that it will only be used to show motive and intent.

Another of Gargiulo's attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, countered that the 43-year-old defendant "never admitted to killing any of these women'' despite a "42-hour interrogation'' by undercover Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives in an El Monte jail about 11 days after he was arrested. He said his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno or Pacaccio.

"We do not have to prove Michael Gargiulo's innocence,'' Nardoni said in his opening statement, saying that his client is presumed to be innocent.

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.

The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder by means of lying in wait, along with allegations that he used a knife in the commission of the crimes. Gargiulo could face the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities in Illinois charged him in 2011 with Pacaccio's slaying.

Gargiulo -- who has a 1997 felony conviction for burglary in Cook County, Illinois -- lived one block away from the high school graduate at the time of the slaying and was good friends with one of her two younger brothers, according to an arrest warrant filed in Cook County.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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