LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles jury on Thursday found the so-called “Hollywood Ripper” – convicted a week ago in the murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third last decade – was sane at the time of the crimes, making him eligible for the death penalty.
Last week, a Los Angeles jury found Michael Gargiulo guilty in the murders of Ashley Ellerin, 22, Maria Bruno, 32, and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who was 26 at the time.
Starting this week, jurors heard testimony to determine if Gargiulo, 43, was insane during the crimes.
Dubbed the “Boy Next Door” killer by prosecutors during the guilt phase of the trial because he lived near his victims, the media called him the “Hollywood Ripper” because the first victim, Ellerin, was murdered in her home near Hollywood Boulevard in 2001.
In 2005, Gargiulo murdered Bruno shortly after she moved into the same El Monte apartment complex where he lived. Her body was discovered by her estranged husband who did not live with her but had gone out for drinks with her the night before.
During closing arguments, the jury saw crime scene photographs of the women.
During the sanity phase, Deputy District Attorney Garett Dameron disputed the brutality of the murders indicated insanity as the defense had argued.
“These were systematic murders done by someone who enjoyed the act itself,” said Dameron.
Defense expert witness psychologist Vianne Castellano diagnosed Gargiulo with dissociative identity disorder while he was in jail awaiting trial. According to Castellano, Gargiulo entered a fugue state when triggered by emotional traumas from his childhood and this made him insane.
“It shows up in the character and nature of the murders and the attempted murder that he was convicted of,” she testified.
Gargiulo stabbed Ellerin 47 times in the chest, while Bruno’s body had been mutilated.
The prosecution’s medical expert testified Gargiulo instead had an antipersonality disorder which would make him more prone to murder – but did not make him legally insane.
Murphy survived the 2008 attack at her Santa Monica apartment. Gargiulo plunged a knife into Murphy’s chest while she was asleep and during a struggle, Gargiulo cut himself with his own knife. As he ran out of the apartment he apologized, Murphy testified.
Defense attorney Dale Rubin asked the jury to consider that the brutal murders of Ellerin and Bruno were not carried out by a sane person, but by someone with a mental disease due to a monstrous childhood steeped in physical and mental abuse.
As crime scene photos of Ellerin and Bruno were projected on a large screen, Rubin said these were not just murders but overkill.
“If we look at what was done with Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno, I cannot conceive a sane person doing that to someone else,” he said.
Dameron noted that during the guilty phase of the trial, the defense had tried to pin the murders on jealous lovers. They only mentioned the fugue state in relation to the attack on Murphy.
But during closing arguments, the defense used the fugue state and mental disease to explain all the attacks, including the murders.
Dameron said, “Let me get this right: Every time he does something bad in his life he’s sleepwalking? Convenient.”
But Rubin reiterated his client is mentally ill and shaped by a traumatic childhood.
“What do we do with our ill? Do we discard them and throw them away? That’s where we are right now,” Rubin told jurors.