Michael Gargiulo (2008 mugshot pictured) is on trial in Los Angeles for the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin
Ashton Kutcher was a fledgling film star when he asked fashion student Ashley Ellerin for a date.
But on the night he was due to take her out he was running seriously late.
As the Hollywood star recounted in a Los Angeles courtroom last week, he had planned to take pretty blonde Ashley for dinner and drinks one February evening in 2001.
However, he got waylaid watching the Grammy Awards at a friend’s house and, by the time he drove up in his Range Rover to her Hollywood home nearly three hours later, the house was locked and nobody seemed to be home.
But the lights were still on and peering through a window before he gave up and went home, Kutcher, then in his early 20s, saw what he thought was red wine spilt on the floor.
What he actually saw was blood, say prosecutors. Twenty two-year-old Ms Ellerin was lying nearby, stabbed 47 times. Her throat had been slashed so savagely that she had almost been decapitated.
In the two hours between their last phone conversation and Kutcher’s arrival, Ashley had been brutally murdered by a serial killer who has been dubbed the Hollywood Ripper.
Last week, the trial of suspected serial killer Michael Gargiulo was treated to the bizarre sight of a moustachioed Kutcher — ex-husband of Demi Moore and now married to actress Mila Kunis — in a courtroom that wasn’t a film set.
Smartly dressed in a blue linen suit and tie — so different to the shaggy, laid-back characters he has played in romantic comedies such as No Strings Attached and What Happens In Vegas — 41-year-old Kutcher gave 40 minutes of testimony about what he remembered of that night.
They had originally planned for him to pick her up at 8pm that evening. But Kutcher was then invited to watch the annual music industry awards at the home of his actress friend Kristy Swanson.
Kutcher, a witness for the prosecution, told the court he had phoned Ms Ellerin at 7.30pm to tell her he’d be there later than 8pm, then called her again to keep her updated on his whereabouts.
Last week, the trial of suspected serial killer Michael Gargiulo was treated to the bizarre sight of a moustachioed Ashton Kutcher (pictured in court) — ex-husband of Demi Moore and now married to actress Mila Kunis — in a courtroom that wasn’t a film set. He had dated the victim and was due to take her on a date the night she was killed
She called him back at 8.24pm to say she was just getting out of the shower and had to dry her hair so she didn’t mind his being late, the actor recalled.
It was the last time they spoke. He tried to ring her four more times without success but didn’t arrive at her home — a yellow bungalow behind the famous Hollywood landmark, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre — until around 10.45pm.
‘Kind of lost track of time a little,’ he testified. ‘I probably left at like 10pm, somewhere around there, and realised it was later than I anticipated and wanted to call her to let her know, you know, I was on my way.’
Her maroon BMW was parked outside but nobody came to the door when he rang the intercom, he said.
In court, he pointed to a large plan of the house, which flashed up on to a giant screen, to show precisely which front window he peered through to see if anybody was inside.
‘I saw what I thought was red wine spilled on the carpet,’ he testified. ‘But that wasn’t alarming because I went to her house party [days before] and it was like a college party. I didn’t think much about it.’
Ashley Ellerin, 22, was lying nearby when Kutcher turned up at her home, the court heard, she had been stabbed 47 times. Her throat had been slashed so savagely that she had almost been decapitated.
Kutcher admitted he wasn’t that curious about what had happened. ‘At this point, I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset,’ he told the court.
Ms Ellerin has been described as Kutcher’s girlfriend at the time, but the actor said in court this was inaccurate. He told the court she was a casual acquaintance he met at a party the previous December.
He testified he didn’t leave messages every time he called her that night as ‘I was trying to take her on a date and didn’t want to seem too eager.’
Ms Ellerin’s housemate found her dead the next morning. She was lying in a hallway just out of sight of the window through which Ashton Kutcher had peered.
Twelve of the wounds were considered fatal on their own, and there were numerous defensive wounds on her hands and arms, revealing how desperately she had fought for her life.
There was no sign of a break-in — the doors were locked and the windows barred. Police believe Ms Ellerin sealed her fate when her killer knocked on the door and she got out of the shower and let him in.
‘I remember the next day after I heard about what happened, I went to the detectives and said ‘My fingerprints are on the door’,’ Kutcher testified.
‘I was freaking out.’ Defence lawyer Daniel Nardoni lightheartedly assured the star: ‘Don’t worry, you’re not a suspect.’
Kutcher has never been a suspect in the investigation, but prosecutors have told the trial Kutcher’s testimony is crucial to the case as it establishes there was a ‘narrow, very narrow window of opportunity for someone to get into the house and murder Ashley, and whoever that person was must have been watching’.
Police detectives said they found a hairdryer sitting on a lavatory seat in the bathroom.
Kutcher is pictured with his wife Mila Kunis buying flowers in Los Angeles
‘We believe she had just exited the shower and was getting ready to go out with Mr Kutcher when she was attacked from behind,’ prosecutor Dan Akemon told the trial during opening statements.
It was the most brutal ending to a short life. Born into a comfortably middle-class family, Ashley was raised in the Silicon Valley town of Los Altos.
She lived with her mother Cynthia, her father, Michael, a former newspaper executive, and her younger brother Seth.
At high school she served as a treasurer on the School Council and was on the water polo and swimming teams.
Her childhood friend, Carolyn Murnick, recalls her as a bright, popular girl and a talented piano player.
But she seemed to embrace the darker side of life in LA after moving there to study fashion, and appeared to be spinning out of control. In a book Ms Murnick wrote about her friend she revealed how their lives had spectacularly diverged.
In The Hot One (a reference to the murder victim), she said in the last year of her life, Ms Ellerin — a student at LA’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising — was ‘dabbling in the sex industry … working in strip clubs and doing light escorting’.
She was flying off to Las Vegas at weekends to perform at pole-dancing clubs. Ms Murnick claimed her friend had experimented with lethally addictive drug crystal meth and had a ‘sugar daddy’ who paid the rental fees on her BMW.
She said: ‘Ashley was beautiful and wild and teased men and used them and danger came knocking.’
Ashley’s family have reportedly accused Ms Murnick of embellishing their daughter’s foibles, although police added to the picture.
‘She had tons of boyfriends,’ said police investigator Tom Small in 2010. He also revealed Ms Ellerin — who reportedly once dated film star Vin Diesel — had been in bed with her young landlord earlier on the day of her death.
For Ashton Kutcher, his curious minor role as a witness in the murder investigation didn’t derail his rise to stardom or his personal life.
He married Demi Moore — 15 years older than him — in 2005. After their 2013 divorce he married Mila Kunis, his co-star from the TV series That ’70s Show, and they have two children.
Police say Kutcher was never a suspect. His link to the Ellerin murder investigation wasn’t publicly revealed until three years later in 2004 when her anguished parents gave an interview in which they attacked him for not thinking of going to police immediately after seeing the stained carpet.
‘His behaviour suggests he felt she was a disposable date,’ said her father, Michael Ellerin, talking to In Touch magazine. ‘Because of him, the perpetrator got a 12-hour head start.’
He went on: ‘Any responsible gentleman who goes on a date and finds a door not answered and evidence of some kind of disturbance would then call the police and let them know.’
In his testimony to the trial, Kutcher explained that he thought she had left for the evening.
The family also revealed Kutcher had never got in touch with them following their daughter’s death. ‘It would have been nice if he had contacted us or sent flowers. But that is a small issue,’ said Mr Ellerin.
Alleged murderer Gargiulo had known Ms Ellerin for just a few months. A 24-year-old air conditioning repairman and ex-bouncer at the time, he lived just down the street from her.
They met outside her home when he asked if she needed help fixing a flat car tyre. Later, he offered to fix her heater. Her friends later told police he would show up at her house uninvited.
The visits were so frequent Ms Ellerin’s housemate thought he was a stalker. Another friend claimed he saw Gargiulo — who had a wife and child — park outside the bungalow at odd hours, watching the building.
Gargiulo is also charged with the 2005 murder of Maria Bruno, 32, who was stabbed to death, and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who was viciously stabbed in her Santa Monica home in 2008.
He denies the charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Gargiulo also faces a murder charge in Illinois relating to the death of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio, who was found stabbed to death outside her home in 1993.
Prosecutors believe she was his first victim and they suspect him of killing as many as ten young women. Police say they were led to Gargiulo by blood found under Ms Pacaccio’s nails, which they say was his.
Michelle Murphy claims she was ‘awakened by someone on top of me . . . stabbing me’. The attacker crept in through a window, but she fought him off and he fled.
Prosecutors, who reportedly dubbed him the ‘boy-next-door killer’, say that in all the cases Gargiulo lived close to his victims. Maria Bruno lived in the same Santa Monica apartment building.
They allege that between 1993 and 2008, Gargiulo — sometimes by exploiting his job as an air-conditioner repair man — would gain entry into their homes and then stalk them and wait for a chance to ambush them with a knife at night.
The alleged killer ‘for almost 15 years, was watching, always watching,’ said prosecutor Dan Akemon.
What a tragedy for Ashley that she was alone when her killer pounced.