Los Angeles

Ashton Kutcher Testifies in Accused Serial Killer's Murder Trial

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

What to Know

  • Michael Gargiulo, 43, is on trial for the stabbing deaths of two Los Angeles women and a third victim who fought off her attacker
  • Prosecutors said the serial killings began in the Chicago area in 1993
  • The trial was expected to last about sixth months and with testimony from about 250 witnesses

Ashton Kutcher testified Wednesday at the trial of an accused serial killer charged in the stabbing deaths of two Los Angeles women, including a 22-year-old friend of the actor. 

The man on trial, 43-year-old Michael Gargiulo, has been described by prosecutors as a methodical predator who watched and waited before seizing his opportunity at the homes of the victims. He is charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two Southern California women — Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion school student who dated Kutcher, and 32-year-old Maria Bruno.

Ellerin was stabbed nearly 50 times inside her Hollywood home in February 2001.

In his testimony, Kutcher — who starred in the television series "That 70s Show" and is married to actress Mila Kunis — recounted going to Ellerin's Hollywood Hills home to pick her up for a post-Grammy Awards party. When she did not answer the door, he checked a back window and spotted what he thought were red wine stains on the carpet and then left.

Kutcher said that he "figured I screwed up" by showing up to her house too late and assumed that she had gone out with a friend. He said all of the lights in the residence were still on and that things appeared out of place, but assumed that was because she recently had a party at the home.

"I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Knocked again. And once again, no answer," he testified Wednesday. "At this point I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset."

Her body was discovered the next day by a friend. When Kutcher found out, he said he was "freaking out" and spoke with police.

Ellerin, a Northern California native who grew up in Los Altos, and Gargiulo first met when he offered to help her with a flat tire, according to investigators. The air conditioning repair man later asked her whether she needed help with a home heater and would show up at her apartment, investigators said.

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.

The trial, which began in early May, was expected to last about six months with testimony from about 250 witnesses. The defendant has pleaded not guilty.

Gargiulo also faces an attempted murder charge involving a woman who was stabbed during a robbery at her Santa Monica home.

Gargiulo sought out young women, lurking around their homes until seizing an opportunity to attack, according to prosecutors. The slayings occurred under the cover of night at the victims' homes, sometimes when they were in bed. 

The trial stems from crimes that occurred in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2008, but prosecutors said the serial killings began in the Chicago area in 1993. That's when Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was killed outside her home after a night out with friends. 

Her father found her the next morning on her doorstep, keys still in hand. She had stab wounds to her neck and chest.

It wasn't until about 10 years later that DNA from the Chicago victim provided investigators with a link to Gargiulo. By then, he had moved from Illinois to Southern California, where he crossed paths with Ellerin and Bruno.

The serial stabbing deaths continued in 2005 after Gargiulo moved to El Monte, where he lived in the same apartment complex as Bruno. She was attacked in her sleep. 

In April 2008, an attack in Santa Monica led to Gargiulo's arrest. Michelle Murphy was stabbed in her Santa Monica home, but she fought off the man, causing him to cut himself before he fled.

Gargiulo was arrested about two months later. DNA found at the Santa Monica crime scene linked Gargiulo to the stabbing deaths of Ellerin and Bruno. He was later charged in Pacaccio's death in Illinois.

Prosecutors described him as a serial sexual-thrill killer. They are seeking the death penalty.

He is expected to be extradited to Illinois after the Los Angeles trial.

Gargiulo's attorney, Daniel Nardoni, reminded jurors during his opening statement that his client is presumed innocent.

"Wait to hear all the evidence and wait to hear our final arguments," he told jurors.

Contact Us