LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Southern California jury found accused ‘Hollywood Ripper’ Michael Gargiulo guilty Thursday in the murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third, victims he attacked with a knife in their homes throughout Los Angeles County.
In the murders, the jury also found Gargiulo had lain in wait. In the attempted murder, the jury found the attack was willful, premeditated and had inflicted great bodily injury on Michelle Murphy, a 26-year-old woman who woke in her bedroom in 2008 to find a man plunging a knife into her chest.
The attacks ranged from 2001 to 2008, but prosecutors say Gargiulo killed his first victim was killed in 1993. That murder, which occurred in a Chicago neighborhood, will be prosecuted separately.
Dubbed the “Hollywood Ripper” by the media and the “Boy Next Door Killer” by prosecutors, Gargiulo is said to have carried out his vicious attacks while working as an air conditioner repairman during the day.
The jury found Gargiulo, 43, murdered 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in Hollywood and 32-year-old Maria Bruno in El Monte. Prosecutors say at the time of their murders Gargiulo lived down the street – or in the case of Bruno, the same apartment complex.
Prosecutors said Gargiulo stabbed Ellerin 47 times as she stepped out of her bathroom in her Hollywood home in 2001. She was set to go on a date with the actor Ashton Kutcher that night but he was late, the jury heard.
When he finally arrived, Kutcher testified he knocked and thought he saw red wine spilled on the floor, but prosecutors say it was likely Ellerin’s blood. Kutcher tried to open the door and when he learned of Ellerin’s murder the following day, he said he panicked and told police his fingerprints might be on the door.
Prosecutors said Gargiulo murdered and mutilated Bruno, 32, in her El Monte apartment in 2005. Bruno went out the night before her death with her estranged husband, Irving Bruno, for dinner and drinks.
Michelle Murphy, 26, fought off Gargiulo when he attacked her in her Santa Monica apartment in 2008. Prosecutors said she was able to get her legs out from under her as Gargiulo stabbed her arms and chest.
During that struggle, Gargiulo cut his own wrist and bled profusely over Murphy’s bedspread. As he ran out her apartment, prosecutors say Gargiulo apologized.
Gargiulo left his DNA at the scene which investigators used to connect him to the other attacks.
Undercover detectives spent 40 hours inside a jail cell with Gargiulo after he was arrested in 2008. Prosecutors played audio from an El Monte jail cell where Gargiulo hatched a plan to attack his jailer, steal a police car and escape. Police found a makeshift handcuff key tucked into Gargiulo’s pants, and the jury found him guilty on an escape charge.
Prosecutors say Gargiulo’s first victim, 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, was murdered outside her home in a suburban Chicago neighborhood in 1993. Gargiulo was 17 at the time of the murder and was friends with Pacaccio’s younger brother. Witnesses testified that Gargiulo was a regular at the Pacaccio house.
The way Pacaccio was killed – approached from behind and stabbed repeatedly around her chest and throat – mirrored Gargiulo’s other attacks, prosecutors say.
Jurors heard testimony in the three-month trial from Gargiulo’s childhood friends, ex-business partners, former girlfriends, victims’ family members and expert witnesses.
An expert witness testified Gargiulo has an antisocial disorder which would explain his erratic behavior, tendency to lie and break laws. But a defense expert testified Gargiulo had a dissociative identity disorder which is present in children from abusive homes and would explain distinct personality traits.
Defense attorneys denied Gargiulo murdered Ellerin, Bruno and Pacaccio, but could not explain why he was in Murphy’s home. They said he was in a fugue state when he broke into her apartment, straddled her body while she was asleep and violently stabbed her with a knife.
Jurors will return to court Tuesday for the sanity phase of the trial.