LOS ANGELES (CN) – Yadira Reyes’ aunt called her sometime in 2015 to say police shared photos of her on the news and were looking for her. The photos showed Yadira’s face pressed against the face of a man she dated for about six months a decade earlier.
She was 26 when they met. The news called him a suspected serial killer, charged with the murders of three women and the violent attack of a fourth. Police thought the woman in the photo – Reyes – was one of his victims.
In many ways she was. Earlier this month Reyes testified the last time she saw Michael Gargiulo, he forced her into the back of his work van and raped her while they were on a date.
She says she pleaded with him to stop and then he did. He abruptly turned away and said he would drive her home.
But Reyes says he threatened her as he dropped her off, claiming to have memorized her work schedule and that he could also hurt her family if she told anyone about what happened. Reyes’ testimony is part of a long list of witnesses called to the stand during the three-month capital murder trial of Gargiulo in Los Angeles.
When her photo appeared on the news, Reyes did not want to relive the experience. Now married and a mother, Reyes says she moved on with her life.
“Well, my aunt came to talk to me, but I didn’t talk to my husband for a while. I was scared, embarrassed,” said Reyes in emotional testimony. She eventually notified police in 2016 that she was the woman in the photo.
Other witnesses in the trial have included medical experts, investigators, actor Ashton Kutcher – who had a date with one of the victims – and Gargiulo’s childhood friends, including the younger brother of the woman who prosecutors say was Gargiulo’s first victim.
In 1993, Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was found stabbed to death on her family’s porch in the suburban Illinois neighborhood where Gargiulo grew up. Doug Pacaccio was Gargiulo’s friend and described him as athletic but impulsive, someone with a bad temper who would suddenly turn violent and savagely beat up classmates without provocation.
Neuropsychologist Deborah Budding testified for the defense, revealing that Gargiulo was in special education for most of primary school due to behavioral issues. She read from an intelligence report on Gargiulo’s capabilities as a child that said he tended to be angry and engaged in power struggles with adults.
Another defense witness, psychologist Vianne Castellano, diagnosed Gargiulo with dissociative identity disorder after multiple interviews with him at the Los Angeles County men’s jail. The diagnosis did not sit well with Gargiulo.
“He did not believe he had a mental illness,” testified Castellano. “He was upset that I was pursuing this. He said I was a liar. He was adamant about that.”
Throughout the trial, jurors have listened to prosecutors argue Gargiulo fatally stabbed Ashley Ellerin, 22, nearly 50 times as she stepped out of her bathroom in 2001 and that he murdered and mutiliated Maria Bruno, 32, in her El Monte apartment in 2005. The final victim, Michelle Murphy, woke up in bed with a man on top of her, bringing a knife down into her chest. She was able to kick him off.
In the struggle with Murphy, the attacker stabbed himself. Prosecutors say Gargiulo’s DNA was left at the scene and have used it to try and tie him to the other murders.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Aug. 6. After the Los Angeles jury reaches a verdict, Garigulo will be tried in Illinois for the murder of Tricia Pacaccio.