LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A jury found a man nicknamed the “Hollywood Ripper” guilty on Thursday of knifing to death two women, including a date of actor Ashton Kutcher, and attempting to murder a third victim during a seven-year span.
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Following a trial that lasted 3 ½ months, the man known as the “Hollywood Ripper” was found guilty Thursday morning of murdering two women in the Los Angeles area, one of whom was killed on the night she was set to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher.
Gargiulo was a neighbor of each victim at the time of the attacks.
He showed no visible reaction when the verdicts were read.
Jurors found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murder, opening Gargiulo to a possible death sentence. The jury could give him the death penalty during the sentencing phase of the trial.
Gargiulo is also facing separate charges out of Illinois in the murder of a Chicago-area teenager in 1993.
In February 2001, Garguilo murdered 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood Hills home. She had been stabbed 47 times.
Actor Ashton Kutcher testifies in court in Los Angeles on May 29, 2019, during the trial of Michael Gargiulo. (Getty Images)
In 2005, Gargiulo is accused of killing a young mother, 32-year-old Maria Bruno, who lived in the same El Monte apartment complex as him. Her breasts had been cut off.
In 2008, Gargiulo moved to Santa Monica, where prosecutors say he tried to stab another woman, 26-year-old Michelle Murphy, to death. Murphy, also a neighbor of Gargiulo, escaped and survived.
Gargiulo’s trial began May 2. Kutcher testified in the trial
In 1993, 17-year-old Tricia Pacaccio was stabbed to death on the front porch of her suburban Chicago home. Pacaccio lived just down the street from Gargiulo, who was a friend of her brother’s.
According to CBS News, Pacaccio’s murder was unsolved until 2011, when two witnesses came forward after watching a “48 Hours Mystery” report on the case. Within a few weeks, Gargiulo was indicted.
The L.A. trial will move into a second phase next week, when jurors will be asked to determine if Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes. If jurors find he was sane, the trial will then move to a penalty phase, in which they will recommend either a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Once the L.A. trial is over, Gargiulo will be sent back to Illinois to face murder charges in Pacaccio’s death.
FILE PHOTO: Michael Gargiulo sits in court during his murder trial in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Michael Gargiulo, 43, sat impassively, leaning forward slightly in his chair, as the jury verdict was read.
The Los Angeles County Superior Court panel will next consider whether Gargiulo was sane at the time of the crimes, in proceedings to begin on Tuesday.
Kutcher, the former star of TV shows “Two and a Half Men” and “That ‘70s Show” told the Los Angeles jury hearing the case in May he arrived at the Hollywood bungalow of one of the victims in 2001, after arranging a date with her, and found the lights on and the door locked.
Peering through a window in the home of the victim, fashion student Ashley Ellerin, the then 23-year-old Kutcher saw “what I thought was a red wine spilled on the carpet.”
Kutcher left and Ellerin, 22, was found dead at her home the next morning by a roommate. Gargiulo had broken into her place and repeatedly stabbed her, prosecutors said.
Ellerin was one of the women Gargiulo was convicted of murdering. The jury also found him guilty of using a knife to kill his neighbor, Maria Bruno.
Bruno, who was 32 and sleeping when she was attacked, lived in the same apartment complex as Gargiulo in suburban El Monte, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
The jury found Gargiulo guilty of attempting to murder a third woman, Michelle Murphy, who survived a 2008 stabbing at her home in the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica.
At the time, Murphy and Gargiulo were neighbors.
He attacked the then 26-year-old Murphy but she fought him off. In the struggle, Gargiulo was cut and left behind DNA evidence, which police investigators used to tie him to the murders of Ellin and Bruno, prosecutors said.
Gargiulo’s lawyers have argued their client suffered from a mental disorder that left him in a confusing “fugue state” when he attacked Murphy, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Gargiulo has denied committing the other slayings, the newspaper reported.
Prosecutors have said Gargiulo began his series of deadly knifings as a teenager in the Chicago area in 1993, when he killed an 18-year-old woman.
Gargiulo is expected to later be extradited to Illinois to face charges in that killing.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker