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Jury Recommends Serial Killer Caught in Santa Monica Be Put to Death

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By Jorge Casuso

October 21, 2019 -- It took jurors less than five hours on Friday to decide that Michael Gargiulo, known as the "Hollywood Ripper," should be put to death.

Gargiulo was convicted in August of killing and mutilating two Los Angeles area women and attacking a third while she slept in her Santa Monica apartment.

The jurors chose to recommend the death sentence for the 43-year-old defendant who pleaded insanity, instead of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gargiulo was convicted August 15 of the murders of 22-year-old Hollywood resident Ashley Ellerin in 2001 and the 2005 slaying of 32-year-old Maria Bruno in her El Monte apartment ("Jury Finds Former Santa Monica Resident Guilty of Double Murder," August 16, 2019).

Prosecutors said Gargiulo stabbed Ellerin 47 times, nearly decapitating her, and “quite literally butchered" Bruno, "stabbing her multiple times, slitting her throat, slicing off her breasts, and staging them for family members and police to find."

Gargiulo was also convicted of the attempted murder in 2008 of Michelle Murphy, who lived across the alley from Gargiulo on the 1200 block of 12th Street in Santa Monica.

In its closing argument, the defense said Gargiulo suffered from a mental disorder that put him in an amnesiac state when he attacked Murphy in her bed.

But on August 22, the jury found the defendant was sane, paving the way for the death penalty recommended Friday ("Serial Killer Arrested by Santa Monica Police Faces Death Penalty," August 22, 2019).

During the trail and in the penalty phase, Gargiulo's lone survivor provided dramatic testimony describing how she fought off the attacker, who crawled through an open second story window into her Santa Monica apartment.

Murphy recalled during the penalty phase how she woke up on the night of April 28, 2008 to find that the knife attack was taking place in "real life" and not in a dream.

After being stabbed multiple times, the 5'1" Murphy was able to fight off her attacker and chase the hooded man down the hallway to the front door.

“I was fighting with everything I had,” she told the jury ("Trial of "Hollywood Ripper" Arrested in Santa Monica Enters Penalty Phase," October 7, 2019).

During her testimony in the penalty phase Murphy described how the attack changed her life.

“Initially in the days, weeks and months after it happened I barely even slept,” she said. “I feared the nighttime and going to bed.

"I still slept with the lights on for a long time.”

Murphy also said she avoided the section of town where the attack that led Santa Monica police to the killer took place.

If Murphy was Gargiulo's last victim, 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio was likely the first. The high school senior was found stabbed to death on the front doorstep of her Glenbrook, Illinois home in 1993.

During the penalty phase, her mother Diane Pacaccio, described life without her daughter.

“It’s been 26 years," Pacaccio said. "Every single day I think about her.

“Her room is the same. The bedspread is the same, drapes are the same. And my grandkids go in there to play, and that’s how I introduce them to Tricia.

“I go in there every day,” she said. “But I never get to hold her, laugh with her, cry with her, because she’s not there for that.”

During the penalty phase, defense attorney Daniel Nardoni asked the jury to consider testimony that Gargiulo was mentally ill and had been abused as a child by family members.

Life in prison without parole, Nardoni argued, was punishment enough.

"I believe it's inhumane to execute a mentally ill person," he told the jury.

Prosecutors countered that Gargiulo -- who lived a ``normal life by day'' and was a ``completely different individual'' at night -- should be put to death for the ``violent victimization of countless women throughout his life."

"In this case, justice demands that Michael Gargiulo be put to death for the lives he has taken and the destruction and pain he has caused," Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron said.

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