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‘Boy Next Door Killer’ could get death for 2 murders

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge denied a new trial for a man prosecutors called “The Boy Next Door Killer,” who could be sentenced to death later Friday for the home-invasion murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third.

Attorneys for 45-year-old Michael Thomas Gargiulo asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler for the new trial, citing the minimal physical evidence against Gargiulo in the home-invasion stabbing deaths of Ashley Ellerin in 2001 and Maria Bruno in 2005.

Ellerin was killed just before she was to go on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher, who was a witness at trial.

Fidler responded that while the evidence in each individual case was thin, taken together, along with the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy and a 1993 killing in Illinois, where Gargiulo faces a future trial, the evidence is powerful.

“Everywhere that Mr. Gargiulo went, death and destruction followed him,” Fidler said. “Every time he’s in a new neighborhood, somebody is attacked. Somebody dies. What are the chances?”

Fidler also rejected several other defense arguments for a new trial.

The judge is expected to sentence Gargiulo Friday afternoon either to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Five relatives of victims are set to give impact statements to the court first.

The sentencing, delayed by procedural issues and the pandemic, came nearly two years after a jury recommended execution for Gargiulo.

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 his victims.

He was found guilty of the 2001 murder of Ellerin, a 22-year-old fashion design student who was found with 47 stab wounds in her Hollywood home.

At the trial, Kutcher said that he was late to pick up Ellerin, who did not answer her door. He looked inside to see blood stains that he thought were spilled wine. He testified that he briefly feared he would be a suspect in the case as one of the last to communicate with Ellerin. Prosecutors used him in their closing arguments, suggesting Ellerin was killed by another man who was jealous of Kutcher.

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. Bruno’s breasts were cut off and her implants removed.

And Gargiulo 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 also led to his eventual arrests for the other two killings. Murphy would be a key witness at the trial.

Even if he is given a death sentence, Gargiulo is unlikely to be put to death anytime soon. California has not executed anyone since 2006, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has halted executions for as long as he is in office. But courts have been proceeding on the assumption that executions may one day resume.

A letter from Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon on his personal opposition to the death penalty was entered into the case file. But Gascon, who was elected after Gargiulo’s conviction, said the decision was up to the judge. Fidler declined to have the letter read aloud in court, saying he had read it and it was not a legal document.

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