A judge has handed a death sentence to a man prosecutors called “The Boy Next Door Killer” for the “vicious and frightening” murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third.
Victims’ family members wept as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P Fidler handed down the sentence to 45-year-old Michael Thomas Gargiulo.
“Everywhere that Mr Gargiulo went, death and destruction followed him,” Judge Fidler said at the all-day hearing.
Gargiulo’s case received added attention because one of his victims was about to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher, who gave evidence at the trial.
The sentencing, delayed by procedural issues and the pandemic, came nearly two years after a jury convicted Gargiulo and recommended his execution.
He was found guilty of the 2001 murder of Ashley Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion design student, in her Hollywood home as she prepared to go out with Kutcher.
At the trial, the TV and movie star said he was late to pick up Ms Ellerin, who did not answer her door.
She was found with 47 stab wounds.
Her father, Michael Ellerin, who had visited his daughter from Northern California hours before she was killed, was one of several victims’ relatives who spoke at the hearing of their suffering as they waited years for justice.
It marked the beginning of an altered, diminished, heartbreaking lifeMichael Ellerin
He said he was tempted to imitate his wife Cynthia’s “mournful scream and primal wailing after finding out that Ashley had been murdered”.
“It marked the beginning of an altered, diminished, heartbreaking life,” he said.
Gargiulo was also convicted of the murder of 32-year-old Maria Bruno, a mother of four, in her home in El Monte, east of Los Angeles, in 2005.
Her breasts were cut off and her implants were removed.
And he was found guilty of the attempted murder in 2008 of Michelle Murphy, who fought him off in her Santa Monica apartment, forcing him to flee and leave a trail of blood that led to his eventual arrests for the other two killings.
Ms Murphy, who was the key witness at the trial, told the court before sentencing: “To this day, spending the night alone creates a world of fear in me.”
She cried as she talked about meeting the families of the two women who did not survive their attacks.
“How is it fair that one person’s actions can destroy the lives of so many?” she said.
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 the victims he stalked then attacked in their homes.
He spoke before his sentencing, angrily complaining that his lawyers prevented him from taking giving evidence in his defence.
“I’m going to death row wrongfully and unjustfully,” said Gargiulo, who sat in court in an orange jail jumpsuit and face mask and showed no visible reaction to his sentencing.
“I did want to testify and my fundamental choice was blocked.”
He is unlikely to be put to death any time soon. California has not executed anyone since 2006 and governor Gavin Newsom has halted executions for as long as he is in office. Courts have been proceeding on the assumption that executions may one day resume.
Gargiulo is expected to be extradited to Illinois for the 1993 killing of Tricia Pacaccio in his home town.
Prosecutors in his California trial were allowed to present extensive evidence from that case as they sought to establish a pattern and present him as a serial killer.