Actor Ashton Kutcher entered a Los Angeles courtroom this week, adding more attention to a sensational murder trial.
Michael Gargiulo faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in attacks in the L.A. area between 2001 and 2008. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.
One of the women Gargiulo is accused of killing had arranged to go on a date with Kutcher in February 2001. And that was the focus on his testimony Wednesday.
Kutcher testified for about an hour, describing how he became concerned when Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion student, didn’t respond to his calls or answer her door.
Ellerin’s slaying is just one part of what prosecutors describe as a reign of terror by Gargiulo.
Here is a narrative of the accusations against him from the pages of The Times:
‘Serial sexual-thrill killer’
Prosecutors have called Gargiulo a “serial sexual-thrill killer” who derived pleasure from slaughtering beautiful women.
Court records show a chronology of attacks linked to Gargiulo that began in the Chicago area in 1993.
In August of that year, Tricia Pacaccio, 18, was celebrating her high school graduation with friends before each headed off to college. She was bound for Purdue University, where she’d earned an engineering scholarship. She dropped a peer off about 1 a.m. before heading home. She walked up to her door carrying her house key but never made it inside.
Her father found her on the doorstep later that morning with numerous stab wounds to her chest, shoulder and neck.
Just 17 at the time, Gargiulo was a friend of Pacaccio’s younger brother. It wasn’t until a decade later that investigators discovered the DNA collected from her fingernails was his.
By then, prosecutors say, Gargiulo had moved to the Los Angeles area and killed Ellerin.
A move to L.A.
Gargiulo first met Ellerin when he offered to help her change a flat tire. Later, he offered to help fix a problem with her heater, and from then on, he’d show up uninvited and unannounced at her apartment.
Some reported seeing him park in front of her home at all hours, staring at her residence for long periods of time. Her roommate thought he was a stalker.
Prosecutors allege he entered Ellerin’s Hollywood home one night in February 2001 and stabbed her 47 times, slashing her throat so severely that he almost decapitated her.
Kutcher went to Ellerin’s home after the pair had arranged to have a drink that night, the actor testified, but she did not answer the door.
Gargiulo later moved to the El Monte area, into the same apartment complex as Maria Bruno, 32.
In 2005, prosecutors allege, Gargiulo attacked Bruno as she slept and “quite literally butchered her,” slashing her throat and slicing off her breasts, which he staged for police to find.
Soon after investigators found her body, they spotted a blue surgical bootie outside her apartment door with three drops of Bruno’s blood. Gargiulo’s DNA matched the profile that was found along the elastic band. The same type of booties, which he wore for work as an air conditioner repairman, were found by detectives hidden in his attic.
Before the killing, Gargiulo had been seen trying to open Bruno’s door and peeping through her window.
The last attack linked to him, in April 2008, was unlike the others. Michelle Murphy survived.
Gargiulo and Murphy, who was 27 at the time, lived across from each other, sharing an alley in Santa Monica. In the months leading up to her attack, Gargiulo would greet her outside her apartment.
One night, prosecutors say, she woke up to him stabbing her arms and chest. She kicked him off, causing him to cut his wrist and flee. Investigators found his blood on her bedspread and in the alley.
After his arrest less than two months later in connection with the Santa Monica attack, detectives linked Gargiulo to the killings of Ellerin and Bruno. He wasn’t charged in Illinois with Pacaccio’s slaying until 2011.
A survivor speaks
Murphy was the first witness called by prosecutors in the case.
On the day of the attack, Murphy testified that she washed her bedsheets, jumped rope in the alley behind her Santa Monica apartment complex and watched TV before crawling into bed. She had been asleep for about an hour, she testified, when she woke up to a man straddling her, stabbing her arm and chest with a serrated knife.
She screamed and asked why he was attacking her. The man didn’t say a word, she said.
In a struggle to save herself, Murphy said she wrapped her hands around the knife’s blade and kicked the man off the bed. As he ran out the door, Murphy recalled, he spoke for the first time.
“I’m sorry,” the attacker said.
Murphy testified that she locked the door, closed the living room window the man had climbed in and made two phone calls. She first called the man she’d been dating for two months, who is now her husband, and then the police. An ambulance took her to a hospital, where doctors operated on her hand and stitched her wounds.
She never returned to that Santa Monica apartment. Instead, her family and friends packed up her belongings. Since her attack, Murphy said she’s more vigilant about making sure “everything’s locked.”
“I’m much more aware of anyone around me,” she testified.