LOS ANGELES -- It was an intense day for the jury hearing the case against Michael Gargiulo, charged with the murders of Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno, and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy. Prosecutor Dan Akemon called Gargiulo a serial killer during opening statements Thursday and said he killed the young women in vicious knife attacks.
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"All of the victims were young, outgoing women, all of the attacks occurred at night, all of the victims suffered multiple stab wounds, all of the victims were stabbed with the knife, each of the victims was attacked in or around her home and in close proximity of Mr. Gargiulo," Akemon told the jury.
The prosecutor traced the steps of an alleged serial slasher, saying Garguilo first ingratiated himself to his victims. He was the helpful nextdoor handyman, only to stalk them, break in, then repeatedly stab them.
It was a true Hollywood crime in the case of Ellerin who on the night of her murder in 2001, missed her date with actor Ashton Kutcher to go to an after-Grammy party.
"Mr. Kutcher looked in the window and saw what he thought was spilled wine on the floor," Akemon told the jury. "We believe that was actually blood, and Ashley had already been murdered."
Akemon showed the jury pictures of all 47 stab wounds scattered throughout Ellerin's death. Gargiulo lived within a short distance of Ellerin's apartment and allegedly interjected himself into her life during the months leading up to her murder. He slashed Ellerin's throat so violently during the attack that he nearly decapitated her, according to the prosecution.
But Gargiulo's defense attorney, Daniel Nardoni, told the jury that the prosecution has no evidence his client murdered Ellerin.
"I can assure you at the conclusion of that presentation of evidence, you'll not find one single bit of physical evidence attributed to Ms. Ellerin's death," Nardoni said.
While Ellerin's murder was being investigated, the prosecutor told the jury that Gargiulo moved to El Monte and targeted his next victim, 32-year-old Maria Bruno.
The prosecution alleged Gargiulo stabbed Bruno multiple times, slit her throat and sliced off her breasts. Akemon played to the jury a 911 call made by Bruno's ex-husband, Irving Bruno. He found Maria Bruno's lifeless body laying on what he described as "a pool of blood" and told the dispatcher the perpetrator had cut off Maria's breast implants and "one of her nipples was placed over her mouth."
The district attorney says Garguilo targeted his first victim in 1993 in Chicago when he was 17. Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was stabbed to death on the stoop of her family's home in Glenview, Illinois. But it would be 15 years later he accidentally cut himself in a foiled attack against Michelle Murphy. Detectives linked his DNA.
The alleged killing spree was enabled by skillful planning, authorities said. Gargiulo knew martial arts, studied forensic science and knew how to kill with a knife. His cover: he was an air-conditioning repairman, married with a child.
"And his hobby was plotting the perfect opportunity to attack women with a knife in and around their homes," Akemon said.
Nardoni told the jury he doesn't have to prove his client's innocence, because the law guarantees the presumption of innocence, which is maintained until the prosecution meets their burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.
This trial is expected to last six months. The prosecution alone has almost 250 witnesses on its list, including Kutcher. Gargiulo faces the death penalty if convicted of all the charges. The trial resumes Monday. The first witness is Murphy, the woman who successfully fought the attack.