Prosecutors Point to Ruthlessness in ‘Hollywood Ripper’ Closing Arguments

Michael Gargiulo listens to an opening statement from his defense attorney, Daniel Nardoni, in Los Angeles Superior Court at his murder trial. Gargiulo, 43, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and an attempted-murder charge stemming from attacks in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2008. The trial is now in the closing arguments phase. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – For three months, a Los Angeles jury has listened to prosecutors argue that Michael Gargiulo is a methodical killer, watching and lying in wait for his victims. He stalked them, broke into their homes at night and attacked them with a knife when they least expected, the jury heard.

After the murder of three women beginning in 1993, prosecutors said Gargiulo was confident, bold and even arrogant in his ability to go unnoticed. He was dubbed the “Hollywood Ripper” after the 2001 murder of a woman who lived close to Hollywood Boulevard.

Then in 2008, the fourth victim fought back. Twenty-six-year-old Michelle Murphy grabbed Gargiulo’s serrated knife blade while she was being attacked, prosecutors say, and during the struggle Gargiulo cut himself with the knife. He bled on Murphy’s bedspread and left a blood trail leading out of her apartment, down an alleyway and at the foot of a flight of stairs to his own apartment complex in Santa Monica.

His arrogance led to him underestimate Murphy, prosecutors told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday.

Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron argued Gargiulo did not leave fingerprints, brought and left with his murder weapon and made sure he was never seen as he left his victim’s homes.

“As a human being, a killer is not perfect. A killer makes mistakes and a killer leaves his signature at a crime scene,” Dameron said.

Gargiulo, 43, is charged with the murder of two women in Los Angeles County and the attempted murder of a third victim. Prosecutors say all the victims were attacked with a knife, with stab wounds grouped around the throat and other vital organs near the chest. The women were attractive, young and killed either inside or just outside their homes. Each of them was stalked said Dameron.

The attacks were carried out in densely populated areas. There was no sign of sexual assault or robbery. None of the women appeared to have been killed as a result of a domestic dispute. But all the attacks were brutal.

“All extraordinarily cold-blooded, torturous, remorseless, degrading – these went beyond someone just killing someone,” said Dameron. “This wasn’t just someone who was going to kill someone and leave.”

Prosecutors also say Gargiulo left the bodies of all his victims for others to find.

In February 2001, Ashley Ellerin was stabbed 47 times inside her home as she stepped out of her restroom. Maria Bruno, 32, was murdered and mutilated in her El Monte apartment in 2005. Prosecutors say Bruno’s breast was cut off her body and placed on her mouth, a fact that was not broadcast to the public but something Gargiulo mentioned in conversation prior to the trial.

Prosecutors say Gargiulo’s first victim, Tricia Pacaccio, was found with her throat slit on her front porch in a suburban Chicago neighborhood in 1993. She was 18 and Gargiulo, her neighbor from down the street, was 17 at the time.

Pacaccio’s murder is an uncharged crime in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial.

After Gargiulo’s arrest in 2008, prosecutors say police carried out an undercover operation and placed detectives in Gargiulo’s jail cell with him. There he discussed escaping to Mexico and made plans to attack a jail guard.

According to Dameron, Gargiulo explained he knew the victims and where they lived, and did not deny that his DNA was found at one of the crime scenes.

Dameron hammered for the jury that Gargiulo had a guilty conscience, like when he asked the other men in his jail cell about DNA evidence. “If it was your tail, how would you explain it to the jury?” according to an audio transcript.

“He doesn’t want to face you,” Dameron said to the jury.

The defense will present closing arguments Wednesday.

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