Hollywood Ripper Michael Gargiulo was sane when he butchered actor Ashton Kutcher’s then-girlfriend to death, viciously murdered another young woman, and attempted to kill a third, the jury at his trial found on Thursday.
Now, the six men and six women on the jury panel in downtown Los Angeles, must decide whether to recommend Gargiulo be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Gargiulo, 43 – head shaven and dressed in a white shirt, dark pants and wearing glasses – showed no emotion or reaction as the jury foreman handed a written note to Judge Larry Fidler stating he and his colleagues had unanimously concluded the former heating and air-conditioning repairman was not legally insane – as his defense had argued – when he committed his brutal crimes.
Last week, after three days of deliberation, the jury found Gargiulo guilty of the 2001 killing of Kutcher’s then girlfriend Ashley Ellerin, 22 – whose head was almost severed from her body at her Hollywood home – and slashing to death LA mother-of-four Maria Bruno, 32, whose breasts were cut off in the vicious 2005 attack.
Hollywood Ripper Michael Gargiulo, 43, was found guilty on Thursday of killing Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2008
Gargiulo stabbed Ashley Ellerin (left) to death at her Hollywood home at age 22 in 2001. He killed 32-year-old Maria Bruno (right) at her home in El Monte in 2005
He was also convicted of the 2008 attempted killing in Santa Monica of Michelle Murphy, 26, who was stabbed multiple times, but bravely fought off and survived the attack. She later became a star witness at the three-and-a-half-month long trial.
In addition, Gargiulo was found guilty of trying to escape from jail after his arrest.
This week, jurors at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center entered the second phase of the trial where they were asked to determine whether Gargiulo was sane or insane at the time of the grisly attacks on the three young women.
Judge Fidler polled the 12 jurors and all answered ‘yes’ when asked if they believed Gargiulo was sane when he committed two first degree murders and one attempted murder.
Over the past two days, the jury had heard arguments, first from the defense who claimed he was claiming Gargiulo was not mentally stable when he carried out the slayings.
The prosecution later insisted he was a ‘cold’ calculating’ – and sane – killer.
‘Someone who would do these kinds of things that you have convicted Mr Gargiulo of is not a sane person. Only someone who is mentally ill could have behaved in this way,’ Defense attorney Dale Rubin told the court.
Forensic psychologist Dr Vianne Castellano, testifying for the defense, said that Gargiulo ‘has a severe mental illness that has rendered him insane.’
‘That shows up in the character and nature of the murders and the attempted murder that he was convicted of,’ she added.
Dr Castellano blamed the ‘monstrous’ abuse Gargiulo suffered as a child for causing his disassociative identity disorder (DID) – otherwise known as multiple personality disorder.
Gargiulo could now face the death penalty if he is found to have been sane at the time of his crimes
She called the murders he committed ‘frenzied rage killings’ where he was fighting childhood ‘monsters.’
Assistant District Attorney Dan Akemon poured scorn on Dr Castellano’s DID determination claiming she’d been paid $300,000 to arrive at that diagnosis and that she was ‘infatuated’ with Gargiulo.
The prosecution produced its own forensic psychologist, Dr Robert Schug, who told jurors that while he believes Gargiulo has ‘anti-social personality disorder’, that condition is not a legal insanity defense and he did not find evidence of mental illness in Gargiulo.
Dr Schug added that he believed serial killers can be sane.
Akemon – who dubbed Gargiulo the ‘Boy Next Door’ killer because he lived so close to his victims – told the jury that Gargiulo ‘knew exactly what he was doing.’
‘He knew that it was legally and morally wrong for him to try to kill Michelle Murphy and successfully murder Maria Bruno and Ashley Ellerin…They were the acts of a very cold and calculating person,’ he said.
He was also found guilty of the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy in her Santa Monica apartment
The jury now moves to the third stage of the trial – which Judge Fidler scheduled for September 9 – where they will recommend to the judge whether he should get the death penalty or a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Had the jurors found him insane today, Gargiulo would have been sent to a state mental hospital.
Police have also accused Gargiulo of stabbing to death family friend Tricia Pacaccio, 18, in Chicago in 1993 but he has yet to face trial on that charge.
Last week, the jury deliberated for three days before handing down their verdict in a dramatic trial that saw testimony from almost 100 experts and witnesses, including Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher.
Prosecutors were allowed to present evidence of the case in his California trial to help establish a pattern between the killings.
A native of the Chicago area who moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Gargiulo had acting aspirations and was working as an air-conditioning repair man and nightclub bouncer at the time of the attacks.
With little physical evidence tying Gargiulo to the scenes of the two murders, prosecutors during the trial urged jurors to look at the uncannily similar patterns in attacks that were all in places near to where he lived at the time.
Allowed to cite evidence from the Illinois case, they said all four attacks were the work of a skilled serial killer who studied the lives, homes and habits of victims.
Prosecutors said he stabbed his victims quickly, powerfully and repeatedly with a knife that he knew how to use and that he studied ways to cover his tracks.
The jury deliberated for three days before handing down their verdict in a dramatic trial that saw testimony from Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher
They pointed out during the trial that the three murder victims all had their breasts mutilated during the attacks.
‘Those similarities point to one man, one killer: Michael Gargiulo,’ Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron said during closing arguments.
The defense relied heavily on the lack of forensic or eyewitness evidence putting Gargiulo at the scenes of the killings of Ellerin and Bruno.
‘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 during closing arguments.
Gargiulo is currently awaiting trial in Illinois for the 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio when he was 17 and friends with Pacaccio’s younger brother
‘There is absolutely no evidence as to where Mr Gargiulo was, except that he wasn’t inside the apartments.’
DNA matching Gargiulo was found via his blood on Murphy’s bed, under Pacaccio’s fingernails, and on a shoe-covering bootie, which Gargiulo used in his work as an air-conditioning repair man, near Bruno’s apartment in a complex where they both lived.
Gargiulo’s attorneys had suggested that both women were killed by the last men who saw them alive: Bruno by her estranged husband and Ellerin by her apartment manager with whom she’d had a sexual relationship.
Kutcher, who in 2001 was a rising star of ‘That ’70s Show’ but not yet the household name he would become a few years later, testified early in the trial that he and Ellerin were just getting to know each other and had made plans to go out together for drinks.
They last spoke at 8.24pm when Kutcher testified that he told Ellerin he was running late and she told him she had just gotten out of the shower.
The defense attorney suggested that the apartment manager, who had been with Ellerin when she received a call from Kutcher on the night of her death, was driven to a jealous rage.
Kutcher said he arrived at her Hollywood home very late and got no answer when he knocked on the door.
He testified that he looked inside and saw what he thought were wine stains. He said he left thinking she had gone out without him in frustration.