A Los Angeles man known as the “Hollywood Ripper” was sentenced to death on Friday after being convicted of murdering two women and attacking another over the course of seven years.
Michael Gargiulo, 43, was convicted in August on two counts of first-degree murder for the home-invasion murders of two California women—22-year-old Ashley Ellerin and 32-year old Maria Bruno—and the attempted 2008 murder of Michelle Murphy in her Santa Monica apartment. Murphy testified against Gargiulo.
“Michelle Murphy, because of her strength and courage, allowed investigators to work backward,” Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron said during closing arguments. “This case begins and ends with Michelle Murphy.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler said Friday, “Everywhere that Mr. Gargiulo went, death and destruction followed him.” Gargiulo, also known as the “Boy Next Door Killer,” still faces charges in Illinois for the 1997 killing of his 17-year-old neighbor Tricia Pacaccio—who was found fatally stabbed on her front porch. He is scheduled to be extradited to Illinois now that his California trial has concluded.
In response to the sentence, Gargiulo said his attorneys had misrepresented him: “I'm going to death row wrongfully and unjustfully. I did want to testify and my fundamental choice was blocked.”
Throughout the three-month trial, prosecutors described Gargiulo as a “serial sexual-thrill killer” who targeted, stalked, and attacked women he lived near. While there was little evidence that put Gargiulo, an air-conditioning repairman and nightclub counter, at the two murder scenes, prosecutors urged jurors to look at the patterns between the murders and their locations.
“Those similarities point to one man, one killer: Michael Gargiulo,” Dameron said during closing arguments.
The defense, however, argued the 43-year-old suffered from mental illness and stressed the lack of forensic or eyewitness evidence proved their client was not present at both Ellerin and Bruno’s murder scene.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that you can make a case against someone when you can’t even prove where they were,” defense attorney Dale Rubin said. “There is absolutely no evidence as to where Mr. Gargiulo was, except that he wasn’t inside the apartments.”
In 2001, Gargiulo fatally stabbed Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion design student, in her Hollywood home 47 times hours before she was supposed to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher.
Testifying at the trial, Kutcher said that he arrived at Ellerin’s house on Feb. 21, 2001, for their date, but left when she didn’t answer the door. Peering through the window before he left, Kutcher said he saw what he thought were wine stains on the floor and just assumed that she had left the house because he was two hours late for their date.
“I knocked on the door and there was no answer,” Kutcher said, adding the pair had met at a party about a week earlier. “I knocked again, and once again, no answer. At this point, I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset.”
When he found out the next morning that Ellerin was dead—after her roommate found her body in the hallway outside her bathroom—the now 41-year-old actor said he started “freaking out” and thinking: “My fingerprints are on the door.”
The defense argued that Ellerin’s apartment manager, who had been with the 22-year-old when she received a call from Kutcher regarding their upcoming date, murdered her in a jealous rage.
Four years later, prosecutors said Gargiulo similarly attacked Maria Bruno, a 32-year-old mother of four, inside her El Monte home. During the trial, prosecutors played the 911 call from Irving Bruno, her 43-year-old estranged husband, who found her mutilated, in a “pool of blood,” with her breast implants cut out and her nipple allegedly covering her mouth.
“It’s been extremely tough throughout the years,” he testified. “I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through. The images I have seen I cannot un-see them. Those images have caused great pain for me.”
Authorities said the only evidence found near the scene was a disposable shoe cover with Bruno’s blood on it and Gargiulo’s DNA, which was discovered in the apartment complex where they both lived. Gargiulo’s attorneys argued that Bruno was murdered by her estranged husband.
In 2008, prosecutors said Gargiulo tried to kill Murphy with a knife in her Santa Monica apartment‚ but was unsuccessful after he accidentally cut himself. Murphy said she was able to escape and alert authorities. This defense lawyer said in his closing arguments that Gargiulo “has no recollection and no memory of what happened because he was in an anamnestic state.”
“Eleven years ago, a 26-year-old woman had the strength and courage to fight off a killer,” Dameron said. “Thanks to her toughness, not only was she able to survive, but she forced her attacker to cut himself, leaving a blood trail, and leading investigators to answers they’d been seeking for 15 years.”