Los Angeles

Murder Suspect Was ‘Boy Next Door Killer,' Prosecutor Says

The victims included 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 is expected to last about sixth months and with testimony from about 250 witnesses

A prosecutor Thursday described an accused serial killer charged in the stabbing deaths of two Los Angeles women as a methodical predator who watched and waited before seizing his opportunity at the homes of the victims. 

Opening statements began Thursday morning in the trial of 43-year-old Michael Gargiulo. He is charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two Southern California women, one of whom was dating actor Ashton Kutcher at the time of the attack. Gargiulo also faces an attempted murder charge involving a woman who was stabbed during a robbery at her Santa Monica home.

Prosecutor Daniel Akemon called the serial killings the "systematic slaughter of women."

"What you will hear is that Michael Gargiulo, for almost 15 years, was watching, always watching," Akemon said. "And his hobby was plotting the perfect opportunity to attack women with a knife in and around their homes."

The trial is expected to last about six months with testimony from about 250 witnesses, possibly including Kutcher. The defendant has pleaded not guilty. 

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 Ashley Ellerin, 22, and Maria Bruno, 32.

Ellerin, a fashion school student who dated Kutcher, was killed in February 2001. She was stabbed nearly 50 times inside her Hollywood home.

Ellerin 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.

Kutcher, who starred in the television series "That 70s Show" and is married to actress Mila Kunis, told police he went to pick up Ellerin for a post-Grammy Awards party, but she did not answer the door of her Hollywood Hills home. He checked a back window and spotted what he thought were red wine stains on the carpet and then left.

Her body was discovered the next day by a friend.

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.

Patrick Healy contributed to this report.

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