Jury Recommends Death Penalty for ‘Hollywood Ripper’

LOS ANGELES (CN) – More than a decade after his arrest – and over 18 years after the murder of his first California victim – a Los Angeles jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for convicted murderer Michael Gargiulo.

This 2008 photo provided by the Santa Monica Police shows Michael Gargiulo. A Los Angeles jury recommended the death penalty for Gargiulo on Oct. 18, 2019, after convicting him for the stabbing deaths of two women and the attempted murder of a third woman. (Santa Monica Police via AP)

Gargiulo, 43, was convicted by a 12-person jury this past August for the murders of Ashley Ellerin, 22, Maria Bruno, 32, and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy.

Jurors deliberated the penalty phase for about four hours over a three-day period.

The case gained media attention because actor Ashton Kutcher was called to testify about his date with Ellerin in February 2001. Kutcher spoke to Ellerin the night she was murdered and tried to open a door at her Hollywood home when he came to get her for a late-night drink. Kutcher testified he looked through a window and saw red wine spilled on the floor; it was likely blood.

Gargiulo killed Bruno in her El Monte apartment in 2005. Jurors saw gruesome crime scene photos showing similar stab wound patterns and other methods that prosecutors say Gargiulo followed. Each of his victims were women attacked while they were alone in their homes at night.

In 2008, Gargiulo attacked Murphy in her Santa Monica apartment. In vivid detail, Murphy testified she woke to find a man in dark clothing straddling her, bringing down a knife into her chest. Murphy fought back and during the struggle Gargiulo cut himself and left a trail of blood out her apartment.

The blood was the break detectives needed and they were able to connect Gargiulo to the murders of Ellerin and Bruno murders.

But prosecutors say Gargiulo killed his first victim when he was 17 and living in a suburban Illinois neighborhood. Like his other victims, prosecutors say Gargiulo lived down the street from 18-year old Tricia Pacaccio who was found stabbed to death on her front porch in 1993. Gargiulo’s DNA was found on Pacaccio’s body and while Gargiulo was not tried for her murder in Los Angeles, the evidence in that incident was presented to the jury to describe motive.

Prosecutors described Gargiulo as “the boy next door” killer who methodically stalked and then attacked with a knife, often climbing through windows and stabbing his victims.

Since this past May, the jury has listened to the evidence in the case as well as defense arguments that Gargiulo attacked Murphy while he was suffering a fugue state due to a mental illness.

Gargiulo’s defense team had also argued their client suffered from a mental illness stemming from a family history of medical issues. None of Gargiulo’s family testified during the trial, but a defense medical expert diagnosed him with a dissociative identity disorder.

The jury, however, found Gargiulo was sane when he committed his crimes.

Defense attorney Daniel Nardoni placed his hand on Gargiulo’s shoulder when the verdict was read. Visibly upset later outside the courtroom, Nardoni asked, “Do we kill the mentally ill?”

Flanked by eight officers in the courtroom Friday, Gargiulo only said “yes” when asked if he was OK with a Feb. 28 sentencing date.

Whether Gargiulo will ever see the inside of the lethal injection chamber at San Quentin remains to be seen. This past March, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on the death penalty in California – and there are 737 prisoners already on death row in California

The Golden State has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

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