Michael Gargiulo sentenced to death nearly two years after murder conviction

‘Hollywood Ripper’ Michael Gargiulo was sentenced to death today for killing TV star Ashton Kutcher’s girlfriend Ashley Ellerin and viciously murdering young mother Maria Bruno. 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler – who called Gargiulo’s crimes ‘vicious and frightening’ – also handed the one-time heating and air conditioning repairman a life sentence for the brutal attempted murder of Michelle Murphy.

Gargiulo, 45 – head shaven, handcuffed and wearing orange ‘LA County Jail’ overalls and a blue mask – slouched in his chair, showing no reaction as Judge Fidler told him that for the murders of Ellerin and Bruno, ‘you shall be put to death in the State Penitentiary at San Quentin, California.’

Everywhere Gargiulo goes ‘death and destruction follow,’ Judge Fidler told the court as he handed down the sentence. 

‘Every time he’s in the neighborhood, somebody dies. Everywhere he goes, mayhem and terror follow,’ Judge Fidler said. 

Against his attorneys’ advice, Gargiulo himself asked to address the court and when Judge Fidler agreed he blurted out, ‘I’ve been denied my fundamental right to testify.

When Judge Fidler reminded him that at his trial, he had waived the right to testify, Gargiulo went on, ‘I wanted to testify but my attorneys wouldn’t let me.

‘I’m going to death row wrongfully and unjustly. I’m innocent – I’ve been framed by tunnel-vision detectives.

 ‘I wanted to tell the jury I was innocent. I wasn’t allowed to do that. I was hushed up.’ 

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, also known as ‘The Hollywood Ripper’, was sentenced to death Friday, nearly two years after he was found guilty of murder of two women and attempted murder of a third

The sentencing comes almost two years after Garguilo, 44 (pictured in court on Friday) was found guilty of the murder of two women and the attempted murder of a third

The sentencing comes almost two years after Garguilo, 44 (pictured in court on Friday) was found guilty of the murder of two women and the attempted murder of a third 

Garguilo was seen wearing two large rings on his wedding finger on Friday. When asked if Gargiulo may have had a jailhouse marriage, his lawyer Dan Nardoni laughed and said, ‘Not that I know of’

Garguilo was seen wearing two large rings on his wedding finger on Friday. When asked if Gargiulo may have had a jailhouse marriage, his lawyer Dan Nardoni laughed and said, ‘Not that I know of’

He was found guilty of murdering 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin (pictured) in her Hollywood home as she prepared for a date with Ashton Kutcher in 2001

He was also convicted of killing 32-year-old Maria Bruno a mother of three who was found dead in her apartment complex in El Monte in 2005

He was found guilty of murdering 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin (left) in her Hollywood home as she prepared  for a date with Ashton Kutcher in 2001. He was also convicted of killing  32-year-old Maria Bruno (right) a mother of three who was found dead in her apartment complex in El Monte in 2005

Gargiulo’s defense lawyers had claimed that the prosecution had presented ‘insufficient evidence’ to convict the one-time heating and air-conditioning repairman of the bloody killings of Kutcher’s then girlfriend Ashley Ellerin and young mother Maria Bruno.

In both cases, said his lawyer Daniel Nardoni, there was no DNA evidence connecting Gargiulo to the murders. And in both cases, Nardoni added, ‘evidence pointed to a third person’ responsible for each killing, leading to ‘reasonable doubt’. 

Prosecutor Dan Akemon countered, telling the court that there was ‘a mountain of compelling evidence’ against Gargiulo in both murders. 

Judge Fidler, agreed, telling the court there was ‘plenty of evidence’ to convict Gargiulo, also dubbed the ‘Boy Next Door Killer’ because he lived close to all his victims.

And the judge denied the defense’s motion for a new trial, noting that the jury had rejected Gargiulo’s insanity plea and his attorneys’ claims that somebody else killed the two you women. 

Gargiulo, 45 – head shaven and dressed in orange LA County Jail overalls with a blue mask – showed no emotion as the judge dismissed his defense’s pleas that he deserves another trial. 

He was seen wearing two large rings on his wedding finger on Friday. When asked if Gargiulo may have had a jailhouse marriage, his lawyer Dan Nardoni laughed and said, ‘Not that I know of’. 

Arguing against the death penalty, Nardoni told Judge Fidler, ‘Mankind should treat each other with mercy – that’s what I’m asking.’ 

He also pointed out that LA District Attorney George Gascon opposes the death penalty and California Governor Gavin Newsom has a moratorium on executions. 

And despite the jury’s rejection of Gargiulo’s insanity defense, Nardoni maintained that expert witnesses had concluded he is mentally ill. 

‘It’s not right to execute a mentally ill person,’ he added.

 

 

Gargiulo's 2019 trial also saw him convicted of the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy (far right). He's now facing a future trial for a 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio in his Illinois hometown

Gargiulo’s 2019 trial also saw him convicted of the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy (far right). He’s now facing a future trial for a 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio in his Illinois hometown

Akemon told the court that after Gargiulo is sentenced in LA, he will be extradited to Illinois where he has been indicted and faces trial for the 1993 murder of 18 year-old Tricia Pacaccio 

The sentencing comes almost two years after Garguilo, 44, was found guilty of murdering 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in 2001, and 32-year-old Maria Bruno in 2005. 

He was also found guilty of the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy.  

His case received added attention because one of his victims was about to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher, who testified at the trial.  

At the time, the jury recommended the death penalty and for his execution to be carried out in October 2019, but the pandemic and procedural issues forced several delays in his sentencing. 

Gargiulo appeared in LA Superior Court in February in a last ditch attempt to plead with a judge to spare his life.  

His attorney argued that the new LA County District Attorney, George Gascon, is opposed to the death penalty and that the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has placed a moratorium on executions.

Even if he is given a death sentence, Gargiulo is unlikely to be put to death anytime soon. 

California has not executed anyone since 2006 and Newsom has halted executions for as long as he is in office. But courts have been proceeding on the assumption that executions may one day resume.   

Gargiulo is a former air conditioner and heater repairman, bouncer, and aspiring actor whose nicknames from media outlets included ‘The Chiller Killer’ and ‘The Hollywood Ripper’ but was called ‘The Boy Next Door Killer’ by prosecutors because he lived near his victims.  

Michael Gargiulo appears in Los Angeles Superior Court after being convicted of killing actor Ashton Kutcher's girlfriend as attorney Dale Michael Rubin pleads his case to be spared the death penalty

Michael Gargiulo appears in Los Angeles Superior Court after being convicted of killing actor Ashton Kutcher’s girlfriend as attorney Dale Michael Rubin pleads his case to be spared the death penalty

Gargiulo is seen adjusting his face mask during his sentencing hearing Friday

Gargiulo is seen adjusting his face mask during his sentencing hearing Friday 

During the trial, That ’70s Show star Kutcher, 43, was called as a witness and told the jury how he had ‘screwed up’ the night of February 21, 2001, by showing up more than two hours late for a date with Ashley, a model and student at the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. 

Kutcher – at that time 23 and starring in his first TV hit – admitted that the next day, after hearing about the murder he ‘freaked out’ because his fingerprints were on the front doorknob at Ashley’s Hollywood apartment and he was afraid he’d be a suspect in her killing. 

The actor told the court that when he arrived at Ashley’s home near the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater, he noticed ‘all the lights were on’ in her apartment. 

‘I knocked on the door, no answer,’ he told the jury. ‘I knocked again, no answer. I looked through the window on the front door and didn’t see anything. I tried the front door knob and it was locked.’ 

He looked through a side window and ‘saw what I thought was red wine spilled on the carpet. I wasn’t alarmed because I just been at a house warming party at her house and that was kind of a college party.’ 

During the trial, Kutcher, 43, was called as a witness and told the jury how he had 'screwed up' the night of February 21, 2001, by showing up more than two hours late for a date with Ashley

During the trial, Kutcher, 43, was called as a witness and told the jury how he had ‘screwed up’ the night of February 21, 2001, by showing up more than two hours late for a date with Ashley

When Ellerin didn't answer the door, Kutcher said he assumed she had stood him up and left. Pictured: Ellerin, center, with friends in 2001

When Ellerin didn’t answer the door, Kutcher said he assumed she had stood him up and left. Pictured: Ellerin, center, with friends in 2001

After seeing nobody inside and getting no answer to his door knocks, Kutcher left. He said he assumed Ashley had gone out with a friend because she was upset about him being so late. 

‘I figured I had screwed up – I had showed up too late,’ he told the jury.  

Kutcher ended his almost one hour of testimony telling the court that when he heard the next day about Ashley’s murder, he went to the police to tell them he had been outside her home the night of her killing. 

Ashley’s roommate found her horribly mutilated body in the apartment the next day. 

The stain Kutcher had thought was red wine was actually blood from the 47 gaping wounds – some up to six inches deep – inflicted on her neck, chest, stomach and back by a knife-wielding intruder who attacked her while she was taking a shower.

After Ashley’s murder, her friends were quick to point the finger at Gargiulo, who lived nearby and had done repair work on Ellerin’s apartment heater. 

During his trial prosecutors called Gargiulo 'The Boy Next Door Killer' because he lived near all of the victims

During his trial prosecutors called Gargiulo ‘The Boy Next Door Killer’ because he lived near all of the victims

Slides were shown that detailed how close Gargiulo lived to his victims

Slides were shown that detailed how close Gargiulo lived to his victims

They told detectives that Gargiulo had been acting suspiciously, showing up at Ashley’s home at late hours and sitting outside her home in his pick-up truck. 

But police could not come up with enough evidence to charge Gargiulo and Ellerin’s murder became an unsolved ‘cold case.’ 

Gargiulo is still awaiting trial in Illinois for the 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio when he was 17 and friends with her younger brother

Gargiulo is still awaiting trial in Illinois for the 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio when he was 17 and friends with her younger brother

It was the same story four years later with the vicious killing of Maria Bruno, who had recently separated from her husband and moved into a Monterey Park apartment, east of Los Angeles in the same complex where Garguilo lived. 

On December 1, 2005 Bruno was hacked to death in her bed. Her breasts were cut off and the frenzied multiple stab wounds she suffered prompted lead detective now-retired Mark Lillienfeld to tell TV’s 48 Hours Mystery: ‘It was unlike any other scene I had ever seen. The violence that was visited upon her was phenomenal.’ 

Both the Ellen and Bruno murders remained cold cases for years – until cops got a breakthrough when, on April 28, 2008, Michelle Murphy woke up naked in bed in Santa Monica to find a man viciously stabbing her. 

Her attacker plunged a knife into her body 17 times but despite the terrible gashes to her chest, shoulder and right arm, Michelle – who is only 5ft 1in tall – courageously fought back and lived to tell her harrowing story in court. 

Gargiulo allegedly left blood at Murphy’s apartment and just weeks later he was arrested and charged with her attempted murder when DNA from that blood sample proved a match. 

And cops also claim that those DNA traces from the Murphy crime scene also tied Gargiulo to the 1993 murder of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio who was stabbed to death on the porch outside her home in the Chicago suburb of Glenview where Gargiulo lived at the time. 

Gargiulo is currently awaiting trial in Chicago for the killing of Pacaccio.

Before the judge passed sentence, Michelle Murphy and relatives of Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno gave emotional accounts of how their lives were devastated after Gargiulo’s violent attacks.

‘I have had many moments of anger, sadness and grief,’ over her nightmare encounter with the man Ellerin’s father described as a ‘psycho-sexual thrill killer.’

Murphy said she still gets terrified if she’s alone at night and she broke into tears as she sympathized with the trauma the Ellerin and Bruno families have suffered ‘because this monster exists among us.’

Ashley’s father, Michael Ellerin – who is in his 70s – told the court that he believes in the death penalty and he blasted LA District Attorney George Gascon for ‘politically intruding’ in the case by adding a letters opposing the death penalty two the case file.

He also bashed California governor Gavin Newsom for declaring a moratorium on executions, ‘against documented will of the people.’

Fighting back tears, Mr. Ellerin said he would never forget the ‘primal scream’ of his wife Cynthia when he broke the terrible news of their precious daughter’s bloody murder.

He said his son Seth – Ashley’s younger brother – ‘decided not to be in court today with the evil sociopath who killed his sister.’

‘I cannot forgive him,’ Seth told his father.

Mr. Ellerin added, ’Some day death will end my heartache and grief. I understand why people contemplate suicide.’

He all out broke down with bitterness and he pointed out to the court that today, July 16, would have been Ashley’s 43rd birthday.

‘I wish (Gargiulo) remembers every July 16 as the day he lost his freedom for the rest of his life.’

Ashley’s friend mark Durban – the manager of the apartment complex where she lived – was at her home earlier on the night she was killed.

And, he told the court, ‘I am so angry that this happened. I have an awful sense of guilt that I did not hear her cry out that night. I was steps away from that monster and I was unable to save her.’

Pointing at Gargiulo and raising his voice in anger, he told the killer, ‘You don’t get to destroy others…….’

Then, turning to Judge Fidler he added, ‘He destroyed and crumbled people’s lives and spirits. I ask that he never be allowed to do that again.’

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