Defense in ‘Hollywood Ripper’ Case Blames Attack on ‘Fugue State’

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man charged in the murders of several women was in a fugue state when he broke into a woman’s apartment and attacked her with a knife, his defense attorney told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.

This 2008 photo provided by the Santa Monica Police shows Michael Gargiulo. Closing arguments began Tuesday in the Los Angeles murder trial of Gargiulo, an air conditioning repairman charged with the stabbing deaths of two women and a suburban Chicago teenager for sexual gratification. (Santa Monica Police via AP)

Meanwhile, the gruesome murders of two women in Los Angeles County several years apart were not at the hands of their neighbor Michael Gargiulo, defense attorney Daniel Nardoni said, but by jilted lovers.

But Nardoni did not offer a legal defense to the jury regarding the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who survived a vicious knife attack at her home in 2008.

“That’s the elephant in the courtroom, I guess,” said Nardoni.

Gargiulo’s second defense attorney, Dale Rubin, claimed his client was in a fugue state when he broke into Murphy’s Santa Monica apartment, straddled her sleeping body and plunged a knife into her chest. During a struggle, Gargiulo cut himself and Rubin said that brought Gargiulo out of a dissociative state. He then apologized to Murphy and ran, leaving behind a bloody trail.

A defense expert witness, psychologist Vianne Castellano, diagnosed Gargiulo with dissociative identity disorder before trial. The defense said this could explain why Gargiulo entered a fugue state with amnesia-like symptoms.

This mental disorder impaired Gargiulo’s ability to plan ahead, according to his attorneys.

“He has no clue how he got there. He has no understanding where he is. In his dissociative state, he’s a little kid fighting monsters back at home,” said Rubin.

During the three-month trial, prosecutors said Gargiulo’s DNA evidence was linked to three murder scenes: two women killed in Los Angeles County – Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno – and another woman, Tricia Pacaccio, in a Chicago neighborhood in 1993. Gargiulo is not charged in Pacaccio’s murder in the Los Angeles trial, but evidence from that investigation has been presented to the jury for the limited purpose of identity and intent.

Nardoni asked the jury to find his client not guilty of the murders. He said the 22-year-old Ellerin, who was stabbed to death at her Hollywood home in 2001, was last seen alive with her landlord Mark Durbin. Ellerin made plans to have dinner with actor Ashton Kutcher, who testified he last spoke with her around 8:24 p.m. on the night of the murder.

A neighbor, Todd Jackson, who was walking a dog in a nearby park testified they heard a woman screaming from the direction of Ellerin’s home around the same time but didn’t see anyone outside.

Durbin testified he had sex with Ellerin that night, was at her home when she took a phone call and when she took a shower. He testified he then went home before she was to go out on her date.

“He was there for the shower and for the call with Ashton Kutcher. You know what, he’s also there when Todd Jackson hears the screams. Look at the time,” said Nardoni.

“I question the fact that he ever had intercourse with Ashley,” Nardoni said of Durbin’s testimony. “I understand why he had to say that. In case he left anything on her body.” Nardoni said Durbin could have been jealous of Ellerin’s date with Kutcher.

Maria Bruno, 32, was estranged from her husband Irving when she moved into her El Monte apartment in 2005. A victim of domestic violence, Bruno was murdered on Dec. 1, 2005.

Irving Bruno testified he and his wife went for drinks at a bar that night and then came back to her apartment around 1:30 a.m. to have sex. A neighbor living directly under Maria Bruno’s apartment said she heard cries around that time.

Nardoni said, “Where do you think it’s coming from? Who is down there at 1:30? You know who. It’s Irving Bruno.”

Crime scene investigators found a knife packet with a single knife missing on Maria Bruno’s kitchen floor, but no DNA evidence inside the apartment linking to Gargiulo. But investigators did find Maria Bruno’s blood inside her estranged husband’s car, on the passenger seat, on the center console and on his baseball hat.

Maria Bruno’s body was mutilated and whoever killed her made it personal, said Nardoni. Rubin meanwhile said she had moved out of her home because of the domestic violence.

“She was tired of getting beaten up,” Rubin said.

Gargiulo lived down the street from both women. Eyewitnesses said they had seen him stalking both women on multiple occasions, but his attorneys said that does not prove he is a murderer.

“Michelle Murphy is the only count in which the prosecution has shown Mr. Gargiulo was in her apartment and attacked her,” Rubin said.

The jury is expected to receive the case by Thursday afternoon.

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