Los Angeles

Sanity Phase of Trial Set to Begin for ‘Hollywood Ripper'

The case was dubbed the "Hollywood Ripper" killings because of the violent nature of the crimes

What to Know

  • Michael Gargiulo, 43, is charged in the slayings of two women and an attempt to kill a third in their LA-area homes
  • One of the victims was preparing to meet actor Ashton Kutcher at her Hollywood apartment on the night of the killing
  • The case was called the "Hollywood Ripper" killings because of the violent nature of the stabbings

The sanity phase of trial for the so-called "Hollywood Ripper" -- who repeatedly stabbed and mutilated two Southern California women, including one who was killed and nearly decapitated hours before she was set to go out with actor Ashton Kutcher -- is set to begin Tuesday.

Michael Gargiulo, 43, was convicted last week of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder in an attack on a Santa Monica woman and an attempted escape. Jurors also found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murder, opening Gargiulo to a possible death sentence.

Now the jury panel will be asked to determine whether the defendant was sane at the time of the crimes.

During closing arguments, one of Gargiulo's defense attorneys cited an expert's conclusion that Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder, arguing that it could have caused him to go into an "amnesiac" or fugue state during the Santa Monica attack.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon called the notion a "complete fabrication." 

If jurors find Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes, the trial will next move to a penalty phase, in which they will recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Gargiulo was convicted of the Feb. 22, 2001, killing of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home and the Dec. 1, 2005, slaying of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in her El Monte apartment.

The attempted murder conviction was for an April 2008 attack on 26-year-old Michelle Murphy, who survived being stabbed eight times in her Santa Monica apartment.

The violent nature of the attacks earned the killer the moniker "Hollywood Ripper." Prosecutors also referred to him as the "Boy Next Door"  killer, noting that he lived near all of his victims. Akemon told jurors that Gargiulo targeted the women in "frenzied knife attacks" that are "inextricably linked." 

Gargiulo is awaiting trial separately in Illinois on a murder charge stemming from the Aug. 14, 1993, slaying of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, who was the sister of one of his friends. She was killed outside her home.

After Pacaccio's killing, 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, Akemon said during opening statements of the trial.

Kutcher testified during trial that he had spoken to Ellerin on the phone the afternoon of her killing, and he showed up at her home two hours later to pick her up. When she didn't answer her door, he looked through a window and saw what he believed was red wine spilled on the carpet, Kutcher testified. He said he left because he thought Ellerin 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 happened to her, spoke to police and was "freaking out" because he knew his fingerprints would be on the front door of her home.

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, the prosecutor said.

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 unit he had rented, the deputy district attorney said.

Gargiulo was able to escape detection until he accidentally cut himself with a knife during the 2008 attack on Murphy in Santa Monica and left a "blood trail" during the Santa Monica attack, Akemon said.

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.

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 Pacaccio at the time of her slaying and was good friends with one of her two younger brothers, according to an arrest warrant filed in Cook County.

One of Gargiulo's attorneys, Daniel Nardoni, suggested in his closing argument that other men were responsible for the deadly Southern California attacks, telling jurors there was no DNA evidence inside the victims' homes to link the killings to Gargiulo. He has said his client denies killing Ellerin, Bruno and Pacaccio.

Another defense attorney, Dale Rubin, said the attempted murder charge involving Murphy -- in which DNA evidence allegedly linked Gargiulo to the attack -- was the "only count in which the prosecution has shown Mr. Gargiulo was in her apartment and attacked her." 

But the defense attorney said Gargiulo suffered from dissociative identity disorder and may not have been fully aware during that 2008 assault.

In his rebuttal argument, Akemon countered the defense's claim that Gargiulo woke up in the middle of the attack on Murphy and apologized while running away, questioning why Gargiulo would be apologizing if he just woke up.

The prosecutor said it was not reasonable to conclude that the defendant was in a fugue state or "unconscious" at the time of each of the attacks.

The prosecutor called Gargiulo a "stone-cold serial killer who preys on women" who lived near him and waited for the perfect opportunity to attack them at night in or near their homes in "totally planned killings." 

The three women who were killed each had injuries to their breasts, with Ellerin and Bruno being attacked shortly after having sex with men who had left their homes, according to Akemon.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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