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Trial of "Hollywood Ripper" Arrested in Santa Monica Enters Penalty Phase

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By Jorge Casuso

October 7, 2019 -- On Monday, jurors in the trial of a convicted serial killer arrested by Santa Monica police were back in court to recommend whether Michael Gargiulo should be put to death.

Michelle Murphy
Michelle Murphy (Courtesy SMPD)
Gargiulo was arrested after his third victim, Michelle Murphy, fought off a 2008 knife attack in the bedroom of her apartment on the 1200 block of 12th Street.

The April 28 attack on Murphy, who was likely being watched by Gargiulo from his apartment across the alley, provided the key DNA evidence that tied the attacker to two brutal LA area murders in 2001 and 2005.

Prosecutors said Gargiulo, who could see Murphy's second-floor apartment from his unit, entered through an open window after climbing up without a ladder and slicing a screen.

Murphy who stands 5'1" was awakened by "a knife being plunged into her," Santa Monica Police Sgt. Richard Lewis told Forty Eight Hours last month.

"She was stabbed multiple times -- in her chest and shoulder and right arm," Lewis told Maureen Maher, a correspondent for the news show.

Murphy, he said, "suffered several wounds to both of her hands as she's grabbing this knife as it's being plunged down upon her."

Murphy was able to fight her attacker off, Lewis said.

"At some point, there was a lull in the action and she was able to get her feet up underneath and kick him off of her," he told Maher.

"The attacker stumbles off the bed and out of the room," Lewis said. "Bleeding profusely from her multiple stab wounds, Murphy runs after the hooded man down the hallway to the front door."

"Did he say anything to her ever?" Maher asked.

"I'm sorry," Lewis said Gargiulo told his victim.

Santa Monica police gathered the DNA evidence at the scene that would prove a positive match 25 days later and within 24 hours, Gargiulo was arrested for the attack.

While in jail for the attempted murder, the suspect was tied through DNA evidence to two killings in the Los Angeles area and one in suburban Chicago ("Santa Monica Suspect Tied to Three Killings," September 2, 2008).

The first LA area victim, 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin, was found stabbed to death in her home in the Hollywood Hills in February 2001, when she was dating actor Aston Kutcher.

Gargiulo entered her home and stabbed Ellerin 47 times, nearly decapitating her, prosecutors said.

Gargiulo also was charged with the 2005 stabbing death of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in Monterey Park, police said.

According to prosecutors, Gargiulo attacked Bruno as she slept and “quite literally butchered her."

During closing arguments defense attorneys claimed that in the attack on Murphy, Gargiulo may have gone into an "amnesiac" or fugue state.

"In other words, he can't premeditate. He can't deliberate," said Dale Rubin, one of Gargiulo's attorneys ("Final Arguments End in Trial of Accused Serial Killer Arrested in Santa Monica," August 9, 2019).

Prosecutors said the defense's claim that Gargiulo awoke from his amnesiac state while attacking Murphy and apologized while running away was a "complete fabrication."

During the sanity phase of the trial, Rubin showed the jury photos of the murder victims' bloody bodies on a large screen, NBC San Diego reported.

"The question becomes, can a legally sane person do this? Can this end result be done by a legally sane person? And we believe the answer is no," Rubin said.

"If you look at what was done to Ashley Ellerin and Maria Bruno, I don't know, I cannot conceive of a sane person doing that to someone else," Rubin said.

Prosecutors countered that while the attacks were "not normal," that "evil does not mean insane"

The attacks, they said, were "calculated," "planned" and "meticulously carried out" and were "systematic murders done by someone who enjoyed the act itself."

On August 22, the jury agreed and will now decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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