Los Angeles

Death Sentence Recommended for ‘Hollywood Ripper' in Series of Brutal Stabbings

Prosecutors say Michael Gargiulo sought out women who lived nearby, then ambushed them in grisly knife attacks.

What to Know

  • Michael Gargiulo, 43, was convicted Aug. 15 of two counts of first-degree murder.
  • In a third attack, Gargiulo left accidentally cut himself with a knife at a woman's Santa Monica apartment. She survived.
  • TV sitcom star Ashton Kutcher, who was friends with one of the victims, testified about what he saw at her Hollywood apartment

The jury for the so-called Hollywood Ripper, convicted of attacking three women in a series of brutal stabbings over a span of about seven years in Southern California, recommended a death sentence Friday.

The three women lived miles apart in Hollywood, the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles and along the coast in Santa Monica. But at some point, they all lived near Michael Gargiulo.

Jurors reached a decision Friday in the penalty phase of his trial for the ambush murders of two Southern California women and a third knife attack in what became known as the "Hollywood Ripper" case after about three days of deliberations. 

Gargiulo, 43, was convicted Aug. 15 of two counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 22, 2001, slaying of Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood bungalow hours before the 22-year-old woman 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. The jury was asked to decided whether Gargiulo will be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gargiulo was called the "Hollywood Ripper" due to the violent nature of the attacks, but prosecutors also referred to him as "The Boy Next Door Killer." He lived near all the victims, stalking and targeting them in a series of frenzied knife attacks.

One of Gargiulo's attorneys, Dale Rubin, told jurors that Gargiulo suffers from mental illness, which should exclude him from being sentenced to death.

Gargiulo is awaiting trial separately in Illinois in connection with the killing of an 18-year-old woman, Tricia Pacaccio. She was repeatedly stabbed on her front doorstep after returning home in Glenview, Illinois, from a night out with friends on Aug. 14, 1993.

Jurors in Gargiulo's Los Angeles trial heard about that killing. The victim's mother and two brothers testified during the LA trial's penalty phase.

After the Illinois slaying, Gargiulo moved to Hollywood, where he met Ellerin. Her friends said he showed up uninvited at a party and seemed fixated on her, prosecutors said.

Kutcher, star of sitcom "That '70s Show" and "Two and a Half Men," testified during the trial that he talked with Ellerin on the phone in the afternoon on the day of her death. When he showed up about two hours later to pick her up, she didn't answer the door.

He looked through a window and saw what he thought was red wine on the carpet, then left under the assumption she'd already gone out for the night.

Ellerin's roommate discovered her body the next day. She had been stabbed 47 times in a hallway outside her bathroom.

No DNA tied Gargiulo to the Hollywood crime cene, but he was a neighbor known to Ellerin and her roommates. Defense attorneys suggested that another man may have been angered by Kutcher's phone call and became violent.

Gargiulo then moved to an El Monte apartment, where he found a victim in the same complex. The prosecutor said Gargiulo stabbed Bruno 17 times, then mutilated her.

A key piece of evidence was left at the grisly crime scene. Investigators found a blue surgical bootie outside the apartment that contained drops of the victim's blood and Gargiulo's DNA. A similar bootie was recovered from Gargiulo's apartment, prosecutors said.

Then, in 2008, Gargiulo accidentally cut himself with a knife in an attack on Michelle Murphy at her Santa Monica apartment. Murphy survived.

Jurors found Gargiulo guilty of the attempted murder of Murphy. Gargiulo was initially arrested in connection with the attack on Murphy and was subsequently charged with the killings of Ellerin and Bruno.

The panel also 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.

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

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